There is no research to date examining this particular connection, but experts working in the field seem to agree that a child’s ability to learn is most certainly affected.
“Because people with separation anxiety are preoccupied with what is not happening in the here and now, it must inevitably affect learning.” Phil Cowan and others say that school attendance, in and of itself, can sometimes be a problem for children with separation anxiety disorder. Certainly not all of children’s lack of enthusiasm for going to school is the product of separation anxiety, Cowan claims, but some part of it is: “A few [children] at the extremes have separation anxiety so severe that it interferes with normal developmental milestones, like going to school. And because people with separation anxiety are preoccupied with what is not happening in the here and now, it must inevitably affect learning.”
The line between first-year nervousness and separation anxiety may sometimes be murky for scientists, but where most teachers are concerned, it is clear enough: when the behavior begins to disrupt the student’s or the class’ ability to learn, then it is a problem and needs to be dealt with.
“The cognitive-behavioral treatments are the best and have a good success rate,” says Dadds. Called CBT, this is a form of therapy that examines and attempts to correct both negative thinking and behavior. “[CBT trains] the person to cope with his or her anxiety (physiological, cognitive, and behavioral methods) and then supportively helps the person to face their fears in small graduated steps, with lots of rewards for each little step.”
“Some kids just need to know that you are there and accessible. Most often, they need love and reassurance.” If a child is suffering from separation anxiety in the classroom-even a mild version of it-the best approach seems to be to make the child feel comfortable; it is, in many cases, after all, their fear of what will happen to them that makes them anxious in the first place. “They need to feel safe,” Frasure says. “They may need space. Some kids just need to know that you are there and accessible. Most often, they need love and reassurance.”
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