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School-Based Interventions : Separation Anxiety
Interventions for Separation Difficulty

  1. Provide desirable activity/responsibility for the student upon entering school

    Before school begins, allow the student to feed fish, clean boards, play with peers, or discuss music/sports with another student who shares interests. Give the student in-school responsibilities such as in-school "messenger" to increase involvement in the school environment.
  2. Reward desired behaviors

    For each successful school attendance, reward the student with 10 minutes of free play with a child chosen by the teacher.
  3. Provide times during the school day for the student to convey brief (30 second) messages to his/her family

    Have a brief script/message the student can phone to a parent ("Hi Mom, made it through Science--now we're going to make penguins in art class. I love you"); prepare the parent not to overreact to tearful messages.
  4. Have a parent send notes to the student to read as a reward for staying at school for increasing intervals

    Have a parent place a brief note to the student in his/her lunchbox that the student can read at lunchtime ("Dear [name], I know you're at lunch now--enjoy the cupcake. Have a great afternoon, and when I pick you up today we'll get to play soccer. Love, Dad")

Specialized Instruction

  • Have the student use special "visuals" of him/herself successfully participating in the school day

    Ask the student to visualize what a perfect day in school would look, feel, smell, and sound like and record his/her ideas in a personal journal.
  • Help the student to diminish anxiety associated with school by employing relaxation techniques

    Teach the student how to relax his/her body ("tense your fingers, count to five, and then relax; then do the same with your neck, legs, toes, etc") and use mental imagery ("imagine resting on the most comfortable pillow; the sound of a pleasant ceiling fan; the taste of mango sorbet").
  • Help the student increase daily participation in class through reinforcement of academic, family, and social successes; focus on the parts that worked if the student doesn't make it through the entire day

    Focus on minutes the student stayed in class, or worked on academic tasks. Provide a reward once the student gets to one hour, for example, with a ticket to eat lunch with a desired peer, time to read a chosen book or listen to preferred music.
  • Use an "Act as If" technique to encourage the student to make an effort despite his/her fear of failure

    "Act as if you felt great about going to school"; "pretend you really like your teacher and classmates"; "play like you have done this before" or "act as if you were George Washington, Spongebob, Hillary Duff (or other student heroes) handling this situation."
  • Provide school-to-home and home-to-school transitional objects

    Have the student take home a classroom object (favorite school book, arts and crafts activity, game) to serve as "transitional object" (familiar object that makes the child feel safer, more comfortable) between school and home. Have in-school "quiet box" filled with favorite home toys and objects to use at designated times throughout the school day.
  • Help the student analyze anxiety-provoking thoughts and identify anxiety-reducing thoughts

    Use illustrative material (cartoons) to help the student identify anxiety-provoking thoughts and perceptions ("others in the class will laugh at me if I cry about missing my parents--I'll look like a baby, and no one will play with me"). Challenge projected consequences with anxiety-reducing perspectives ("everybody makes mistakes from time to time - the others in the class are unlikely to take particular notice of the ones I make").
  • Help the student cope with anxiety by using coping self-statements

    Have the student develop positive self-coping statements based on fears of separating from parents. Self-coping statements include "I can be brave", "I can do this", "My parents will not leave me", "I am not in danger", "In five minutes I'll be able to go play, eat lunch, see my best friend, or look at my favorite book".
  • Provide the student with competing responses to negative thoughts or behaviors

    The student says "I'm afraid I'll miss my parents and start crying in class." Ask the student: "if you start to feel sad, what can you do before you start to cry? Can you read something that makes you laugh? Can you distract yourself by doodling?" top

Behavioral Planning

  • Have the student practice being separated from his/her parent in the home

    Have the student practice being separated in the home from the parent for a certain number of trials and time intervals per day. Start with small time intervals with the parent out of the child's sight but close enough to be heard. Expand time and space intervals as the child becomes more successful. Replicate at school what the child has in his/her room when the parent is elsewhere (familiar book, comfortable pillow, sounds of adults talking).
  • Identify a staff person to meet the student on arrival at school or at a class

    Designate a specific aide, teacher, school staff person to meet the student at the curb at a specific time; identify a fallback person if the designee is absent/unavailable
  • Establish parameters for meeting with the school nurse

    Allow the student to see the nurse on the way to lunch, or before another desired activity so the student is motivated to keep the visit brief. Alternatively, allow the student to see the nurse after the student has tried three de-escalation strategies (breathing/relaxation ritual, visualizing serene setting, acting as his/her hero).
  • If the student is frequently unable to get to school on time, create a plan for immediate return to school whenever feasible

    Plan ahead of time how the student can get to or return to school if he/she misses the bus or parent ride at 8am; determine classes the student can return to first and several options for getting the student to school (ride with a parent on the way to work, ride with a different carpool, or take the middle school bus with a sibling).
  • Identify a hierarchy of staff/other adults for the student to access if a parent is gone or unavailable

    Designate (during a calm time) student-preferred office staff person, aide, or coach who can help if a parent is late, or can help to minimize the child's efforts to contact the parent during the academic day. top
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