It’s back to school time or perhaps your child is starting day care or preschool for the very first time. It is going to be a new experience for both of you. It is also going to be an emotional experience.
When it comes to separation, it is important to know that separation is a normal stage of development. Remember not to minimize your child’s feelings by saying things like, “Stop crying”, “There is nothing to cry about”, “You are not a cry baby”.
Accept her emotions and don’t deny her reality. By rejecting her reality and her internal experience, you are sending a message that her feelings are wrong, there is something wrong with her or that her feelings don’t matter. Normalize her emotions. It would be very odd if your child started preschool and integrated seamlessly. It’s a change, a new environment and with time, empathy and guidance children will adapt.
Before drop off
To help ease the separation anxiety in your child you can do a few preparatory things.
-Read books about the first day of school. There are plenty of nice books. Here are some recommendations. Children relate to the characters of the book.
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
- Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
- The Night Before Preschool by Natasha Wing
-Visit the school and meet the teacher in advance with your child, if possible. This way it won’t be a complete shock. The unknown is a scary thing. At least your child will have some image of the school/teacher and a chance to explore her new space.
-Children like predictability and there is comfort in the known. This makes them feel safe and secure. The unknown provokes anxiety.
-Go over their day at school, talk about what activities they will be doing etc. Play school-school at home. Pretend play helps children process their experiences.
-Find out if you can meet with some children who will be attending the same class as your child. Arrange a playdate before school. This way your child will have a familiar face in the new surrounding.
-Let your child see you talking to the teacher in a friendly way. Introduce your child to her teacher. We respond to those who we feel connected to. By introducing your child to her teacher you are creating that transition bridge. Help your child recognize that the teacher is a trusted person.
At drop off
-Don’t stay long and extend the good bye process. Also, make sure not to sneak out. That will make you child extremely upset.
-Make sure after saying good bye to reassure that you will be back to pick her up.
-Separation is an emotional experience for a parent too. Try to remain composed and control your own anxiety. Children are very sensitive to their parents’ stress. Let your tears roll out when you are alone. If you show that you are uncomfortable or unsure, you child will pick up on that. If you found a good school and you have trust in the teachers, know that with time your child will transition and like going to school. Every child is different so there is no specific timetable for that.
-Give them a kissing hand. A kissing hand is a beautiful ritual described in the book by A. Penn the Kissing Hand. It’s a wonderful book about separation and school anxiety about a little raccoon named Chester.
-Create your own unique good bye rituals.
-Give them something of yours or something from home. It could be a picture of the two of you, a special necklace or something to keep in her backpack or cubby. A familiar object, mom’s smell can help your child to deal with fears and anxiety in the time of homesick.
-Focus on your attachment. When saying good bye, don’t direct your child’s attention to school activities, try saying things, like “When I pick you up, you and me are going to do…” This way the child is reassured that mom will not forget about her and she has something to look forward to.
-At night narrate the story of the day. Go over each step, what you did and how you did it and how it made you feel. This helps the child to make sense of the life experiences through creating a cohesive story.
–If your child is having a hard time at drop off, is clingy and crying, don’t use threats. Remain calm and state that you will be back to take her home.
–Avoid suggesting how she is going to feel at school. Let her discover things on her own. Do not paint a rosy picture of her day at school. Children pick up on the insincerity and anxiety of their parents very quickly.
At pick up
-Avoid asking many questions about how her day went. Give her some time to decompress, reconnect with you and when she is ready she will start sharing. Many parents make a mistake by interrogating their children and that can backfire. Remember that young children need some time to process what happened during the day and make sense of the events. Instead, say how much you missed her and how happy you are to see her. Give her hugs and kisses.
-Avoid taking your child to errands right after pick up. Children are hungry for connection. Establish reconnection, have a snack and let her transition into home environment.
-Be gentle with yourself. Talk to a freind.
Happy First Day of School!