First Day Jitters: Overcoming Separation Anxiety
The first day of preschool can be equally exciting and nerve racking for child and parent. For many children this is their first time away from family so this huge transition can understandably bring major stress and anxiety for any child. Separation Anxiety is very real and can be heartbreaking to go through especially if you are not prepared. Separation Anxiety is VERY common! For some children it may last a few minutes the first day of drop off and others it may take weeks (or months...yikes!). It can occur the first day or even a few weeks into the school year! Don't fret! We are here to help! By following these simple tips you may help minimize or eliminate Separation Anxiety for your child.
Before the First Day:
1) Talk about school and your child's new teacher often. Show them excitement about all the fun things they will do and learn through out the year!
2) Attend as many pre-start to school events as possible. Allow them to spend time playing, meeting classmates, and bonding with their teacher. This will help eliminate any unknowns or stranger danger!
3)Go on a shopping date. Let them pick out a first day of school outfit, backpack, or water bottle. Make this a BIG deal and save it special for the first day. This will get them excited and know how special going to school is.
4) Check out books from the library about the first day of school. My favorite is "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn. Talk with your child about their feelings. It is important that we acknowledge what they are feeling and answer any questions they may have.Reassure them about any fears and provide praise for this new big step.
5) The weeks leading up to school it is important to work on earlier bedtime and early morning wake ups. Setting up the school routine a few weeks before you start will ensure your child is well rested before the big day.
The First Day of School!
6) On the first day- wake up with big smiles and excitement! I love making my girls an extra special breakfast on their first day. Be sure you spend time with them at the breakfast table to talk about the upcoming day and reinforce how excited you are for them.
7) Take pictures to capture every moment! We know in the inside you are a ball of nerves but by staying calm and excited, your child is less likely to notice your stress. You also will be amazed at how much they grow when you look back on these photos on the last day of school!
8) Do your best to arrive to school a bit before the start time. Take your time to spend a few minutes engaging them in an activity. Once they seem comfortable , give a big hug and let them know you are leaving and will be back soon! DO NOT SNEAK OUT! This can cause unnecessary fears that you will not return. Once you say you are leaving it is important to leave the classroom and stay out of sight of any door or window. This is likely the most difficult but most important step any parent can take to overcome separation anxiety. We naturally want to stay to help calm your child down but can often give a mixed message to your child. Some children will recognize the bigger the tears, the longer their parent will stick around or may acknowledge your own stress and begin to fear school. School staff will help calm your child, provide extra hugs, and engage them in a special activity.
9)Avoid peeking in the classroom and checking on the child. Often Separation Anxiety will only last a few minutes but if they see you looking through the windows or hanging out in the hallway it may often cause the tears to come again. Ask the Director or other school staff to check in on your child for you. You can also check in after drop off via phone or email to see how they are doing.
At Pick Up:
10) Be positive and excited at pick up. It is likely that your little one may start crying as soon as they see you. Be sure to give them a big smile and encouraging phrase such as"I am so proud of you! I know you had fun on your first day!". This will help them feel reassured that school is a safe place from them to grow ,and learn. As you go home talk about their entire day, ask about their favorite activities, their new friends, and what they learned. Continue to remain positive and provide plenty of praise and encouragement!
Separation Anxiety is not limited to the first day. Often it can be worse the second day of school or after a long weekend. As a parent it is important to remember to consistent, positive, and encouraging. If after the first few weeks of school you are still experiencing separation anxiety schedule a meeting with the Director and teacher to create a coping plan for your child. By creating a strong foundation of an early love of learning, your child will continue to flourish in any school environment.