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January 2011



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Article Date: 01 Sep 2010 – 3:00 PDT

With summer fading, anxiety is on the rise for some students anticipating the return of school. But it isn’t just the first days of classes that can provoke angst — anxiety in school is seasonal and age dependent, say pediatric psychiatrists.

And, they add, these issues are often predictable and highly treatable. “If parents are aware of the fears that might affect their school-age children at different times of the year, and at certain ages, there is a lot they can do to help,” says Dr. John T. Walkup, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“It is about knowing when problems occur, anticipating them, and intervening effectively so that children do not suffer academically or socially,” he says. “Untreated anxiety and depression lead to coping and adaptation difficulties over time — all of which can be prevented by early recognition and treatment.”

Dr. Walkup adds that these anxiety disorders are much more common than parents (and teachers) realize, and while anxiety is a fact of life, many children are impaired enough that they should be assessed and treated. “Behavioral therapy works well for many students,” he says. “Others may need medication.”

Seasons of Anxiety

Culled from his clinical experience with many children with anxiety disorders, Dr. Walkup outlines what he dubs the “Seasons of Anxiety”:

* September: Separation anxiety as school starts. This usually occurs in children under the age of 12 as they anticipate returning to school after a summer spent with their family. With the anticipation of returning to school, these children may have trouble falling asleep, stomach aches in the morning, clingy behavior and apprehension about leaving home and going to school. At school they may go to the nurse with vague symptoms and want to come home.

Although some mild and transient separation anxiety with starting school is common in children ages 4 to 6, separation anxiety in children 7 to 12 is of more concern. Separation anxiety can start abruptly or sharply worsen in this age group. “These kids really worry about separation,” Dr. Walkup says. “They worry something bad will happen to their parents or to them. At home, they often don’t want to be alone, won’t do sleepovers during the school year and often don’t want to go to camp in the summertime. Monday morning is more difficult than Friday for these children.”

Separation anxiety can be treated with behavioral therapy, such as the well-known “Coping Cat” program, in which a trained professional works with the child and family to identify the fears and develop strategies to manage and overcome them, he says. “It is important that children learn to handle their fears and worries at an early age so that when they are older they don’t use avoidance as a coping strategy for routine challenges in living. Kids should be curious about new (safe) situations and experiences, not fearful and avoidant. If they learn they can handle new situations and challenges as an early age they will be more likely to handle challenging situations in adolescence and adulthood. Teens who have had anxiety as children often don’t have the kind of complex and supple coping skills in adolescence and often complain of feeling overwhelmed by even routine stresses.”

Read in Full:  http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/199568.php

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