Dr. Larry Larsen
---- — Dear Doctor,
The second grade has started and we are going through the same thing we did last year. Our son is athletic, smart and a fun child to have around. Then he begins to get worked up about going to school. It makes no sense.
He doesn’t know why he gets fearful, but he wants to stay home. He says he will go the next day, but we know this is not true. He cries and hangs on to me and even the car door. It is a real scene. Can you say how to get over this? Does some kind of medication help?
Your son has a condition which used to be named “school phobia.” Now it is better known as separation anxiety.
I wish I could tell you we know a great deal about it. I also wish I could say a medication will fix it. Unfortunately neither statement would be entirely true.
For some children the experience of separating is transient. Others experience it, to some extent, throughout life. The psychoanalytic theory was one which insisted the cause was an unwillingness to separate from mother. The theory continued with the assertion that the child magically felt absence from other could cause her harm. As weird as this sounds, there is sometimes truth to such an idea. I have often heard children express their fears in such terms.
In your son’s case try the following things: First, alert the school to be ready to receive him and settle him into his classroom as soon as possible. A transition person may be helpful. This could be the guidance counselor or the principal. He can sit (your son, not the principal) until he collects himself.
Second, be firm but supportive. Assure him all will be well and you will see him later. Do not, and this is very important, prolong the goodbyes no matter how your heart may break. Your caring is actually likely to reaffirm his fear and cause it to continue. See to it that he gets to school and stays there. Through it all, be quiet and positive.
This is not fun at all, and you may want to look for some professional help.
Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. Email him questions or comments at lrryllrsn@CS.com.