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Separation Anxiety Often Manifests Weeks after Start of School

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It is a familiar scene for many parents – after weeks of preparation,
the first day of school fails to go according to plan. Their once eager
child clings tightly to their leg, pleading to go back home, requiring
an arsenal of tactics and an escape route to keep them in the classroom.

These first day jitters are often dismissed as typical childhood
behavior. While some nervousness and anxiety are healthy, pediatric
psychiatrist Mariana Martinasevic, M.D., who practices at Broward
Health, advises parents to be mindful of separation anxiety behaviors
that persist for more than two or three days, as it could be a symptom
of other behavioral health issues that should be promptly addressed.

"Children should naturally enjoy new experiences, like school," she
said. "Anxiety for the first few days is normal, because fear of the
unknown is healthy. Any behavior that persists beyond that needs to be
identified – it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder."

Dr. Martinasevic says it is important to consider changes in personality
that are out of the norm and any increase in the severity of these
changes. For example, an outgoing child can turn noticeably shy and
withdrawn, they can lose interest in their regular activities and can
have changes in attitude at night in anticipation of the new school day.

In some instances, the child may display behaviors linked to bodily
functions, such as "stomach pains, the need to go to the bathroom often
and nausea in the mornings, which can become repetitive," she explained.

For parents of children experiencing any level of separation anxiety,
Dr. Martinasevic recommends supporting their child and validating their
feelings.

"Parents need to be reassuring and loosen up their own expectations,"
Dr. Martinasevic said. "Do not minimize your child's concerns, and
always promote conversation by validating their feelings and their
fears. Remind them that it is okay to feel scared and share with them a
moment when you were also scared to make the child feel comfortable."

If, despite a parent's best efforts, symptoms persist and increase in
severity days after the child has started school, medical treatment may
be needed to properly help your child. Home environment might also need
to be evaluated to determine the impact of family dynamics. Family
members with anxiety may indicate a familial predisposition to this
condition.

"Sometimes parents need treatment first," said Dr. Martinasevic. "Often,
it is mom and dad that suffer from anxiety and this reflects on the
child."

Just as with the little ones, some anxiety on the parent's part is
reasonable, but a fear that lingers, instead of easing, especially in
parents of older children, could indicate the need for additional help.

"If a parent feels guilt during the process, or is experiencing thoughts
that are irrational and excessive, even when it seems like there is a
good reason behind the fear, this parent needs help," said Dr.
Martinasevic "If they are unable to control their reactions and their
comments around their children, this is also a parent that needs support
managing anxiety."

Asking for help is a sign of strength, and Broward Health behavioral
health specialists are available to support the entire family with their
needs.

"A healthy family life requires safeguarding the physical and emotional
well-being of each family member," said Beverly Capasso, Broward Health
President and CEO. "At Broward Health, we care for the entire family. It
is our commitment to our community."

About Broward Health,

Broward Health, providing service for more than 80 years, is a
nationally recognized system in South Florida that offers world-class
healthcare to all. The Broward Health system includes the statutory
teaching hospital Broward Health Medical Center, Broward Health North,
Broward Health Imperial Point, Broward Health Coral Springs, Salah
Foundation Children's Hospital, Broward Health Weston, Broward Health
Community Health Services, Broward Health Physician Group, Broward
Health Urgent Care, Broward Health International, and Broward Health
Foundation. For more information, visit BrowardHealth.org.

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