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My Kindergartner Has Separation Anxiety

By Dr. Lisa Hunter, Child Psychologist

Question:

My 5-year-old just started public school kindergarten. She had gone to Montessori school since she was 10 months old. Now she has severe separation anxiety when I try to bring her to her new kindergarten class. She refuses to ride the bus. It's better when her father brings her but is still present.

We have solved the problem temporarily by picking up her best friend, as well, and bringing the two of them to school so they walk in together. She is very confident this way. What recommendations can you offer?

Answer:

Since your daughter just started a new school, it's understandable that she is experiencing some separation anxiety. This anxiety may lessen with time as she becomes more comfortable in her new school. In the meantime, it is important to help her develop confidence in her ability to ride the bus, walk into school alone and attend class without one of her parents present. In other words, she needs to face the situations that make her anxious. This may be difficult for both of you, but it will allow her to develop the independence she needs to succeed.

With regards to riding the bus, you may consider riding the bus with her a couple of times to help her feel comfortable or identifying an older child on the bus who can be her "bus buddy." The idea is to gradually expose her to riding the bus until she can ride it on her own with minimal anxiety.

If your daughter's anxiety does not lessen with time and your intervention, she may need the help of a mental health professional. If so, I highly recommend having your daughter seen by a cognitive-behavioral therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy is quite effective for the treatment of childhood anxiety. To learn more about separation anxiety and what can be done about it, read Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety or School Refusal by Andrew R. Eisen, Linda B. Engler and Joshua D. Sparrow.

Dr. Lisa Hunter is an assistant professor in the department of child psychiatry at Columbia University and the director of school-based mental health programs at Columbia University's Center for the Advancement of Children's Mental Health. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and evaluation of school-based mental health and prevention programs. In addition she is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She specializes in cognitive behavioral treatment for children and adolescents.

 

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.