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Anxiety and Stress Disorders (Children)

Comorbidity of Anxiety

06/04/2007

Question:

My oldest son is 9 1/2. He is a bright, articulate, kind boy. He is younger than most of his classmates, but does very well in school academically.

I am a stay-at-home mom and spend a good amount of quality time with my son.

He has been having trouble going to school lately. He is quiet and anxious in the morning, barely eating his breakfast. I think he is more worried about our "goodbye" than the actual school day.

I have asked him the best suitable way to drop him off and I accomodate where he wants me to be, etc... At first he would just run back for a couple of hugs and kiss on my cheek. Progressively it is getting worse. Today he couldn`t seem to make the walk to the door. He kept running back for more hugs. He had tears streaming down his face.

I have tried to be casual and just say I`ll be here until you`re fine, but I think I`m almost making it worse. I want to be understanding, but firm, as well.

I worry about the way ALL the kids/parents/teachers are watching him. I don`t want this to affect him socially. In the moment of his anxiety, he doesn`t seem to care at all.

He says that once he`s seated in his desk at school, he is fine and all is well. It`s just the transition from me to the school door.

Do you have any suggestions? I`m feeling so helpless right now that I`m on the verge of taking away priveleges, but I`m guessing that is a poor approach.

He had the same situation in the fall and it gradually went away, although he`s needed two hugs and every morning and a very planned goodbye. I don`t mind that but will he outgrow it? His younger brothers have no such troubles.

He had a minor situation like this two years ago. However, he did have any separation anxiety when he was a baby.

I would appreciate any advice. Thank you for your time.

Answer:

Persistent separation anxiety does occur in both boys and girls and seems to recur in bouts brought on by start of school, restarting class in January or any change in the routine. You are using good behavioral techniques to help your son get back in school while ignoring most of his somatic complaints.  Persistent separation anxiety typically occurs in the context of other anxiety problems such as social anxiety termed social phobia.  I would say with the number of recurrences and the problems you are now both facing your family needs therapeutic intervention from a qualified professional. 

For more information:

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Response by:

Floyd R Sallee, MD
Professor
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati