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Overcoming Separation Anxiety on the First Day of School
Entering a new environment can cause anxiety for children—and their parents. Find out how to overcome separation anxiety for a happier first day of school.
What You Can Do Before School
Preparing your child for school before his first day can greatly reduce any separation anxiety your child may feel when you leave. Here are some ways to familiarize your child with his new environment:
• Introduce your child ahead of time to common school activities, such as drawing pictures or storytelling.
• Visit your child’s classroom a few times before school starts to familiarise him/her with the space.
• Have your child meet his/her teacher.
Don’t minimize the importance of easing your fears as well as your child’s. If you feel guilty or worried about leaving him/her at school, your child will probably sense that. The more calm and assured you are, the more confident your child will be.
• RELATED: Countdown to School: A Timeline for Getting Ready for the Big Day.
To prepare yourself for the upcoming drop-off:
• Ask your child’s teacher what her procedure is when children are crying for their parents. Make sure a school staff member is ready to help your child with the transfer from your care to the classroom.
• Find out how the school structures its daily schedule. Many preschools begin with a daily ritual, such as “circle time” (when teachers and children talk about what they did the day before, and that day’s activities), to ease the move from home to school.
Tips for Goodbyes
Saying goodbye on that first day can be the hardest moment for parents and children. Here are five tips on how to ease the separation anxiety.
• Reintroduce the teacher to your child. Allow them to form an initial relationship. Make it clear that you trust the teacher and are at ease with her watching your child.
• Bring a friend from home. Ask the teacher whether your child can bring along a stuffed animal to keep in his/her cubby in case he/she needs comforting. It shouldn’t be his/her favourite one, though, because there’s no guarantee it will come home in one piece. Other favourite choices include a family picture, a special doll, or a favourite blanket.
• When it’s time to go, make sure to say goodbye to your child. Never sneak out. As tempting as it may be, leaving without saying goodbye to your child risks his/her trust in you.
• Once you say goodbye, leave promptly. A long farewell scene might only serve to reinforce a child’s sense that preschool is a bad place.
• Express your ease with leaving. Some parents wave from outside the classroom window or make a funny goodbye face.
• Don’t linger. The longer you stay, the harder it is. Let your child know that you’ll be there to pick her up, and say “See you later!” once he/she’s gotten involved in an activity.
• Create your ritual. One mum mentions that she kisses her son on the lips and gives him a butterfly kiss (her eyelashes on his cheek), and then they rub noses and hug. When the embrace is over, he knows it’s time for her to go to work.
• Learn the other children’s’ names. When you can call your child’s classmates by name, it makes school seem much more familiar and safe.
Source: The American Medical Association
By Karin A. Bilich, Ilisa Cohen, and the editors of Parents magazine