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Dealing with separation anxiety during back to school

Dr. Jessica Hawks with Children's Hospital Colorado talks about how parents and students can deal with separation anxiety.

DENVER — Last year, everyone was cooped up under one roof, 24/7. Parents were working from home, kids were learning from home. It was a big change.

Well, it's all changing again. Now that things are slowly going back to normal, there's this new feeling among parents and kids of separation anxiety.

For many, like the Nuno family, 2020 brought them closer. They formed new hobbies and new adventures.

“On march 13th, just like the rest of the world, my boys got the call that we were going to all at-home learning so that was a big transition that day. Also, unfortunately on that day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Annemarie Nuno.

She would soon have to go through a double mastectomy in the middle of the pandemic.

“We, as a family unit, definitely became stronger,” Nuno said.

Her husband and boys rallied around her. They got closer. Just like all of us, they got used to all the commotion in the house.

“I think that will probably be the hardest transition as someone who stayed home with them," Nuno said. "It's already a hard transition knowing my youngest is going to kindergarten. So, that's already like my baby is going to school and he's got his lunchbox and he's all excited and he's like bye mom have a nice day. But me as mom, sitting at home, I'll definitely have a few tissues that day.”

And she won't be the only one.

Dr. Jessica Hawks with Children's Hospital Colorado said these feelings are normal and this is a huge change for families.

“I think first and foremost, give yourself some grace and be compassionate with yourselves we are all chartering uncharted territory," Hawks said. "I think second, one of the things that parents can try is to ease them self into separating from their children as a first step you might try a play date for a few hours before you jump in and do a weeklong summer camp. I think the final thing is to make sure parents are really aware of how they're coping with the anxiety that they're experiencing because kids are watching their parents and if parents are showing that they're really anxious about this idea of going back out into the community kids are more likely to experience the same."

Hawks added, "focusing on the positive. There's a lot of wonderful things about the fact that we're opening back up and were able to get back to normal most importantly kids are able to be back with their friends and that's a really important thing for them in regards to their mental health.”

For the Nuno family, focusing on the good; the bike rides, the camping trips, the time together, was what got them through.

“I think the biggest thing out of all this pandemic and everything that we've experienced is staying positive and knowing that this is tough no matter what situation you're in and everyone is trying their best,” Nuno said.

“I think the most important message that families need to hear is that emotions are normal their natural and they're harmless these emotions have purpose and as long as were paying attention to what that purpose is an acting accordingly it's all going to be OK we are an incredibly resilient society” Hawks said.

Hawks also said the most important thing for parents and kids to look out for, is the anxiety starting to cause them impairment. Signs that anxiety is getting in the way of their ability to do the things in their life that need to do. If so, it's time to talk to someone and get some professional help.

RELATED: It takes a village: The pandemic's impact on teens

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