Is it separation anxiety or something else?


My daughter is 8 and is seeing a therapist now for anxiety. She was fine all summer but the moment school started she complained of a stomach ache. For the first month of school she would complain but there were no problems at all. She had to take a state mandated test and the teacher told the class that if they failed they would not go to the 4th grade....that is when it got worse. The day before the test the school called and I told the teacher I thought it was anxiety so she stayed in school. Things seemed to have gotten better and then in mid October she cried all day at school, asking the teacher to take her temperature because she thought she had a fever.

This seems to be her pattern: Fidgety and anxious in the morning but usually okay by the end of the day. The beginning of the week is the worse and as the week progresses the anxiety does too. She barely eats in the morning and I try not to force her because I don't want to add to the stress. The therapist wants me to drive her to school 2 days a week and 3 days she rides the bus. I've noticed that the closer it gets to school the more anxious she gets.

She was fine in second grade. In fact she missed her first day of school in April! In first grade she went through this for about 6 weeks, crying every morning, saying she missed me. Her dad fell asleep so he didn't hear her knocking on the door after the bus let her off. A neighbor had to come get her and shortly after that it was crying every morning but just as fast as it came one day is just stopped.

Needless to say she has always been sensitive. She doesn't have any behavioral problems in school. She struggles with crying in the morning at school sometimes because she says her stomach hurts. She hasn't been going to therapy long. The therapist has taught her breathing techniques. I pray she doesn't need medication. She only gets like this before school, or if she has to go somewhere that she doesn't want to go, etc...

Is this anxiety or something else?

Dear Mom:

The symptoms you describe seem pretty typical as far as what I see in my practice. Children very often have a physical manifestation of anxiety and usually it is some form of gastrointestinal distress. It may be important to try to figure out if it is social anxiety ( anxiety about being judged) or school anxiety ( anxiety about the academics) to see if you can target the interventions more relevantly to what she needs.

What you describe in first grade certainly sounds like separation anxiety, and what you are seeing now could also be a continuation of that. Again, it's important to work closely with your therapist to figure out exactly what is happening so interventions can be targeted to the real source of anxiety.

I would also suggest that the school talk about " failing if you don't pass the test" is absolutely inappropriate. Even for children who don't have anxiety, that seems like a statement meant to scare them If anything like that occurs again, I would call a meeting about the impact of those kinds of statements on yours and other children.

I continually am frustrated with school systems that allow these kinds of statements to made to young children. At times, this is enough to cause the onset of an anxiety disorder.

I hope your child with the help of your good parenting and concern, and her therapist can get some tools to battle her anxiety.

Kristen McClure

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