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Dealing with separation anxiety, and back to school worries amplified by the pandemic

Back-to-School-Emergence
KVIA

Editor's Note: Dr. Carla Alvarado will be in the studio Saturday night for a special half-hour show to dive more into separation anxiety and how parents and students can best handle it. Be sure to tune in Saturday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC-7  for "Back 2 School -- What Every Family Should Know." It's brought to you by Emergence Health Network and the Texas System of Care.

As some borderland students are already back in the classroom, tens of thousands will start a new school year Monday.

It's an exciting time for many, but that change can be intimidating for some.

Mackenzie is a 6-year-old ready to start first grade. Mackenzie's mom is anxious. 

"It's just scary. I feel like I'm in the nesting stage, trying to get everything ready, trying to do all the research. Yeah, it was really hard," said Kristal.

That's because the first attempt to send Mackenzie to school last year for kindergarten didn't last long.

"It took me about a month to decide to take her, to withdraw her from school and put her in homeschool,"

Kristal says she dealt with separation anxiety -- fueled by stresses caused by the pandemic ... And the school not being the right fit for Mackenzie.

"I was feeling scared and sad. I missed her a lot."

"They had a fire drill at school, right? And she came home and was like I'm so scared, I was so scared and crying," said Kristal

"Separation anxiety is fear and worry that usually children get about being away from a primary caretaker," says Dr. Carla Alvarado, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Emergence Health Network. "They worry something bad is going to happen to them, or something bad is going to happen to the caretaker," said Alvarado.

She says it's common for separation anxiety to occur when children first start school.

"Especially, I think, during this pandemic it's a little bit more common. Kids have been accustomed to being at home with mom and dad, especially if mom and dad are working from home, so separating from mom and dad can be very scary,"

But after a year of homeschooling, Kristal is giving it another try.

"She's older now, so I feel like she's ready to start school. She's expressed an interest." "I'm going into this as trying. I'm not afraid to withdraw her again and homeschool her. I feel like it could work still."

It can be challenging for not just the parents -- but also the children. Dr. Alvarado says little things can be done to make a big difference to ease the difficulty of the transition.

"Sometimes carrying a picture of mom, sometimes carrying something that will remind them of their caretaker. Perfume of mom in a stuffed animal, a picture of mom, a letter that mom wrote on their school lunch box. That can be very helpful. Just something that they feel safe," says Dr. Alvarado.

And while Mackenzie says she'll miss her mom at school, she's already looking forward to two things, "I love doing music school and art school."

Dr. Alvarado says it's normal for you and your child to feel anxious about the start of school.

But if you notice routines and behaviors changing -- like sleep, appetite or not wanting to do daily activities anymore -- that's when you should consult your pediatrician.

And all parents know it takes a village -- don't be afraid to ask for help.

Article Topic Follows: News

Erik Elken

Erik Elken co-anchors ABC-7’s flagship newscasts.

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