Separation Anxiety: Tips for a Tear-Free Goodbye on the First Day of School

separation anxiety

How to Handle Separation Anxiety:

Worried about separation anxiety with your little one when you drop off on the first day of school? Starting preschool is a big deal! This is likely the first time your little one has been left with someone other than a family member. Separation anxiety in young children is a real thing, but it is manageable and preventable.

Here are some great ways to get your child ready for a tear-free(ish) goodbye:

I say tear-free(ish) because the reality is, there may be tears, but, they may probably be from you! If you prep your child before school starts, they are bound to have a nice and easy transition, but goodbyes are always harder for mamas! We worry if our child is sad if they are lonely if they are having fun if they are making friends, and the list goes on. Our worries will never cease. That is our job. But, if we take the time and prep our child, then we can rest assured their transition will go smooth and they will likely not encounter separation anxiety. Here are my top tips for saying goodbye on your child’s first day of school:

separation anxiety

1.    Ask for a daily schedule of the school. Put the schedule up on your child’s wall at home, at eye level, and go over the activities they will do during the day. Do a dry run of the daily schedule at home and implement this into your daily schedule. If your child needs to adjust their naptime or bedtime, it is best to start several weeks in advanced to slowly adjust it in increments of 15 minutes.

2.    A month prior to your child starting school, get a calendar and put it on your child’s wall at eye level. The magnetic calendars where the child can manipulate the daily numbers make a great hands-on activity (you can also make your own with a magnet board and magnet numbers). Every morning go over the calendar and count how many days left until school starts. Circle their school start day on the calendar.

3.    Have your child visit the school they will attend; better yet, have them do a “trial period.” Ask the school’s director if they have a transition plan for your child. If they do not, ask if your child can come into the school a few times to participate in various activities they have throughout the day i.e. circle time, outdoor playtime, and indoor play or “work” time. If your child’s school is closed and they will be starting after a break, Visit the closed school several times and talk about what will happen when school starts. For example, “in the morning, I will park the car over here. We will get out and walk to the school. You will put your lunch and backpack in your cubby, then I will help you pick out an activity in the morning before I leave. I will give you a hug and a kiss then you will stay at school with your teacher and play with your friends. After lunchtime (or nap time or whatever activity it is), I will pick you up! Mommies and daddies always come back!” When my daughter first started school, it was in September after a summer break. The school was right next to a playground, so I took her to the playground a few times a week for several months leading up to the start of school.

4.    Whenever you talk about school, keep it positive and exciting for your child. Do not talk about how sad you will be your child leaves or that you will miss them so much. Talk about how much fun it will be to play games or make friends. Specific details work really well. “Remember that twisty slide in the playground? It is going to be so fun sliding down that slide!” Or “It will be so much fun feeding the turtles in the morning!”

5.    Let them pick out a lunch box, water bottle, backpack etc. and let them help you get a few things ready for school.

6.    Lastly, it always helps to read stories about new phases and transitions in life. Here are a few books about starting school can be used to help prep your child for a smooth transition:

These steps will greatly help to reduce any stress, uneasiness, and separation anxiety your little one could encounter with unfamiliar territory. Remember when you introduce something new, it takes time. It may take your child a few days or longer to get into a rhythm of things where they feel comfortable and excited about their new adventure. Just remember to stay positive yourself and encourage your child. Bring your child to school at least 15 minutes early to maybe play outside or play in the classroom to acclimate, before leaving. This will allow your child time to warm up, loosen up, and get comfortable before they start their day. Once they are in the classroom, help them get interested in an activity before leaving. All of these tips will lead to a tear-free goodbye and one without separation anxiety.

What steps do you think will be the most helpful for your child? I would love to hear what you have tried or what you will try.

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