Written by Maria Lallier
It’s that time of year when parents and children are anticipating the first day of school. Although this is an exciting time for both it may also be a stressful transition. For many this is the first separation between the two of you and there is no way to predict how this experience will affect the family. The most important thing to remember is that separation anxiety for the child is normal and to be expected.
Throughout the past 20 years I have welcomed new families to my various classrooms and have seen several different ways how drop offs can unravel, the most common are:
- A child may not be effected one bit by the good-byes. This does happen and when it does both parents and teachers are impressed and surprised.
- Children will often cry within the first few days or weeks but eventually get to understand the transition and become better at the separation.
- Some children may transition fine for the first few weeks however tantrums and crying fits may eventually become a part of their mornings. I refer to this as, “when the honeymoon stage ends and reality sets in.”
- Some may have attended childcare outside of the home since infancy and they are just as likely to experience separation anxiety at an older age.
- And lastly, there is no way to determine how long this anxiety may go on for a child, however, staying consistent and following through with routines is the best way to support them.
The mindset of the parent should begin with knowing the separation is an opportunity for your child to organize their emotional feelings while gaining coping skills. Giving your young child the opportunity to cope is allowing them to adapt during stressful times naturally, offering a valuable life skill to learn in achieving how to calm themselves down.
Understanding this opportunity for the child may not completely make things easy for the parent as they have to walk away hearing the screaming and crying, but know this is normal. What is also common for parents is an internal reaction to feeling guilty and/or reconsidering their decision to sending the child to school. It is definitely a trying period for the child and even more so for the parent. Here are some things you can do to help support your child during this period of transition.
- Follow a routine. If you leave your child every day, saying goodbye in the same way each time it will help him know what to expect and feel more secure.
- Let your child know what to expect. Explain what will happen while you are gone: “You’re going to school today. When you get there you will draw, build with blocks, do puzzles, etc..”
- Let your child know when you are coming back. Use a time frame that she will understand, such as after a routine activity: “I’ll be back when your lunch is over.”
- Tell your child you are leaving—don’t just disappear. This will help your child develop the security she needs, and it will make goodbyes easier in the long run.
- Keep your goodbyes short. Give your child a quick hug and kiss, then leave. Long goodbyes can make things more difficult. (At Young Einsteins parents are welcome to stay 10-15 minutes to help their child get settled and begin play, but once they say goodbye the parent will want to exit quickly).
Here are some tips to keep in mind on making your return. Having quality conversation with your child at pick up time will help them understand the transition process better.
- When you return, take a few minutes to give your child some special attention: “Taylor, I’m so glad to see you! Let me see what you worked on today.”
- Share with your child what went on while the two of you were apart.
- Ask their teacher how their time went. Find out what your child did while you were gone so you can talk about it together.
- Don’t be surprised if your child ignores you or doesn’t give much detail about their day. Remember, he may be busy playing, or may not have the need to recall their day.