Back to school time can mean a lot of excitement, but it also means lots of nervousness. This nervousness doesn’t really go away, but it’s worse when children are younger, especially when they’ve never been away from home before. How a child deals with the thought of going back to school varies. Some can’t contain their excitement while other’s dread the possibility of meeting new people.
Separation Anxiety: What’s Normal and What Isn’t
It’s perfectly normal for young children to cling to their parents in a new environment. They see you as their protector, their rock. But what about when it’s time for you to leave? Will they throw a tantrum, cry, not let you go? I can assure you as a teacher, it happens all the time. It’s nothing to worry about.
I can also say that these moments are often harder on the parent than the child. No mother (or father) wants to see their child like this, and their first instinct is to take them back home so they won’t cry anymore. Rest assured, not long after you leave, most children adjust to their new environment without mommy and daddy.
Is It More Serious?
Temporary separation anxiety is nothing to worry about. Separation anxiety disorder is. Separation anxiety disorder is when the child experiences extreme stress when away from a caregiver. This stress doesn’t stop in the classroom and often signs show at home.
Separation anxiety disorder has a variety of causes, including:
- Changes in environment, such as a recent move or new school.
- Stressful situations like recent loss of a loved one (including pets) or divorce
- The anxieties of parents, children can feed off of them
Common symptoms of separation anxiety disorder include:
- Clinging to a caregiver even when at home, may cry when you try to leave the house even temporarily
- Physical ailments like a stomachache or a headache when time to separate
- Fear something bad will happen to the caregiver when away, making the separation permanent
- An unreasonable fear of school, they’ll do anything to stay home
- Difficulty sleeping, they may have nightmares
If you suspect separation anxiety disorder, seek the help of a professional.
Tips to Help Separation Anxiety in Your Child
To help make the transition go smoothly, try these tips to make sure your child experiences minimal anxiety when going to school:
- Talk about school, a lot. This will help prepare them mentally.
- Anticipate difficult moments. You know your child better than anyone. You have the best idea of when they’re likely to have some difficulty. If you find they have an easier time separating from another caregiver, try to have that person drop them off at school.
- Don’t lose your cool. If your child sees you freaking out, they may as well.
- Try to avoid long absences. Try to avoid keeping your child away from school for long periods of time (of course, sickness can’t be helped). Make an effort to get them back in their routine as soon as possible, even if they only go to school for a half-day.
- Talk to your child’s teacher. Relay any concerns you have when your child’s teacher. Part of their job is to help with issues like this. Ask them if they can keep a watch on your child and report to you any signs of trouble. Your child’s teacher can ease any concerns you may have. Oftentimes, you may think the situation is worse than it is.
Books To Get The Conversation Going
When you’re having those school conversations, it may help to read and discuss a story with your child. Here are a few good ones you can start with.
The kids will love talking about separation anxiety with their friend Llama Llama. He’s experiencing his first day of preschool and he’s having a hard time being away from his mama for the first time. Read how he deals with it and discuss some helpful tips with your child.
Especially written for toddlers, Bye Bye Time helps kids come up with a new way to deal with saying goodbye to mommy and daddy at drop off time. It encourages parents and children to come up with a special ritual at drop off time. It could be hugs and kisses or a big wave. It helps make drop off time less stressful and reminds kids that Bye-Bye always leads to another Hello.
The kids will have fun going through an imaginary preschool day with one of their favorite friends. The book uses familiar characters and scenes to give children a run-through of what happens during a typical day at preschool. After going through the story, they may be excited about their first day of school rather than anxious.
This story is about a little boy named Billy who’s so nervous about his first day of preschool that he can’t sleep the night before. It’s a great story for children starting their first day of preschool with a situation they can relate to. It has a rhyming text that’ll prove soothing to your child whether you’re reading them a bedtime story or discussing their anxieties about the first day of school. You may also enjoy The Night Before Kindergarten and The Night Before First Grade, also by Natasha Wing.
The Hello Genius series produces Penguin Misses Mom, a story about Penguin who misses Mom after she leaves him for a short time. Penguin is nervous about being at home with the babysitter, but he learns to like her after they do some fun things together. It’s a great story for kids who aren’t quite ready for school but still have to be away from their parents.
This is a great story for kids starting day care or preschool. It goes through a typical day and the activities your child will do at day care, giving them something to look forward to and ease their anxieties. The story is written in a simple rhyme with colorful illustrations, proving to be both entertaining and a fun story to help them realize that day care can be a fun place.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the Kissing Hand, a New York Times Bestseller and a classic. Since it was published in 1993, it’s touched many little hearts. The Kissing Hand is about Chester Raccoon who doesn’t want to start school so his mother shared with him a family secret called the kissing hand. This book is very popular with teachers on the first day of school and it’s the perfect story for any separation. Stickers in the back of the book help parents and kids to create thier own kissing hands.
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