Kindergartner Hallie loves going to school and even told her mother she wished she could attend school every day. But it hasn't always been that way. Just a year earlier, Hallie would kick, scream, cry and beg not to go to child care - anything to keep from leaving her mother.
Hallie suffered from separation anxiety. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Research shows that children with anxiety disorders who go untreated are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences and are more likely to later engage in substance abuse.
A child care program change led to no improvement — Hallie was still crying and throwing fits every morning. The anxiety seemed to begin on Saturday mornings, when Hallie would think about attending school the following Monday. Frustrated, Michele began allowing Hallie to stay with her grandparents rather than attend child care. This solution worked for awhile, but Hallie began acting out at her mother’s and grandparent’s homes shortly after.
That is when Michele reached out to The Family Conservancy for help. An assessment revealed no trauma or abuse was occurring at child care; however, Hallie said she missed her mother and was afraid something would happen to her while she was away. She had physical symptoms, including stomachaches.
At The Family Conservancy, Hallie and Michele started learning and practicing techniques designed to help make transitions and separations easier. They developed their own special goodbye handshake they used each time they parted and a special “glad to see you” hug that they used when they reunited.
In addition, Hallie learned new coping strategies for whenever she began to feel anxious. At the suggestion of her counselor, Hallie used her active imagination to picture special moments with her mom and the happy “glad to see you” hug they would share later in the day. In addition, Hallie took a special picture to school of her and her mother that she could look at to remind her that mom was safe
Each week Hallie found herself feeling better. Recently, Michele reported Hallie's transition to school is going wonderfully. She goes happily off to school and comes home excited and enthusiastic each day.
“The change is amazing” said Michele. “She even came home and said ‘Mom, I wish we had school every day and wouldn't have to stop for weekends.’”
Thanks to techniques taught by counselors at The Family Conservancy, Hallie is on her way to a successful school year.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) offers a list of questions to screen children for anxiety on their website. Visit their website for more information.
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