Separation Anxiety When Starting School
Next week marks the first day of school and for some of our little ones this can be a very stressful day. And for some of the big ones too!
Separation anxiety is the uncomfortable feeling a child gets when separated from their caregiver. It is normal and varies in intensity.
Although it can be difficult to witness your child experiencing these intense emotions, rest assured we will take care of them. We strongly suggest you start the routine on the first day. Resist the urge to drive them if they normally will ride the bus. You may want to put them on the bus then jump in your car and follow the bus. That’s Ok.
Dr Kiiffner, our board Psychologist, talks about helping kids ‘ride the wave’ when anxiety hits. Help them to recognize how they are feeling. They are scared, uncomfortable, their tummy feels weird…. these are normal emotions. Let them know you have those feeling too sometimes like when you had to do something at work or when you had to go to a new town you never went to before. The best thing you can do as a parent is to let them know they can get through this.
Every time your child struggles with something and then overcomes it, they are building their resilience and their ability to cope with challenges. The first day of school is a great way to safely let them learn they can overcome scary feelings. This is a great way to empower them.
For those of you who have the job of raising a sensitive child, the one who will have a particularly difficult time with this transition, please know that it is ok if it takes a few extra days. We will help, support and encourage your child through this first hurdle. (It usually only last about 5- 10 minutes) Most importantly we will celebrate the courage and strength it took to overcome their fear.
We promise we won’t leave them alone to cry.
Bridge the Separation
A concrete object or a picture can help a child hold on to something while they are physically away from you. They could:
- wear a piece of your jewelry ( I suggest costume jewelry)
- Tuck a favourite picture of you in their pocket
- Paint their fingernails or toenails the same colour as a parent
- Wear the same colour of outfit on the first day
- Be creative and find Something subtle that connect you in some tangible way (Please don’t send their precious teddy bear as things can get lost and that can also be a hard habit to break)
Place your confidence in their teacher. Many schools don’t tell kids in advance who their teacher is but we do for the basic reason that this will enable you to pass the torch of care to the educator. Tell your child that when they are at school “your teachers will be there to take care of you. They know how to help you and they can always call if you need me!” This gives the child the feelings of being cared for even when they are away from you.
Focus on the Connection
One easy strategy is to focus on what will happen when you are reunited. When you get home we will———— fill in the blank with a fun activity you can do together. If your child is showing some signs of separation anxiety you may want to pick out the special story you will read when they get home from their first day of school. Before you leave put the book in a special place so it will be ready when they return. Make a big deal of it as away to take their mind off the separation and onto the re-connection.
Here are some examples of what you can say.
“It’s ok to be a bit sad. Mommy / daddy will be sad too but when you get home this afternoon we will draw a picture about your favourite part of the day. Let’s get some special paper and your crayons and put them on the table so it is ready.”
“When you get home after school we are going to make this special cookie recipe and then after supper we are going to all eat the cookies together…..”
They might say they don’t want to go which can be kid code for I am going to miss you and I am scared. Tuck a paper heart in their pocket. You can have them cut out a heart for you to carry as well. “Every time you miss me you can reach in your pocket and touch the heart and when I miss you I will touch this heart.” Similarity, draw a little heart on their arm and one on your arm, as concrete example your attachment to each other.
When the day is over and all the stories have come out about their adventures remember to tell them how proud you are the they did it. They were bigger than their fear! They are getting stronger and learning new things!
Separation Anxiety: When Saying Good-Bye is Hard by Debrah MacNamara, Phd