Back to School:  How to Manage Separation Anxiety

Ask a child “are you ready to go back to school?” and most of a certain age will likely groan and moan about a summer gone by too quickly. Ask that same question to a younger group and you’ll likely get the same lack of enthusiasm, but for a different reason. For them, it’s not the prospect of leaving summer behind, it’s the idea leaving you, the parents. Children, especially those entering school for the first time, can experience a serious case of anxiety. The idea of leaving home for a big gray building filled with strangers is not only tough for the new student, but their parents as well. Here are some ways you can alleviate you and your child’s anxiety during the back-to-school season.

Practice Separation

Getting dropped off at school doesn’t mean saying goodbye to his or her room, toys, and pets (for example) forever; we know this, but your kid may not. Being away from home can be daunting for kids, even more so if it means being away from you. This small act of independence can be learned, like any skill, with practice. Practice separation by leaving your kids at a relative’s house for a night. If they’ve been doing this already, then they have a better shot at a smooth transition.

Celebrate the Event, Together

The first day of school is a major milestone in a person’s life, so treat it like one! Mark the first day of class on calendar in your home, not only that, but use bright markers and little doodles to increase your child’s excitement. Bring your child along with you for back-to-school shopping; you’d be surprised how reservations about school can suddenly disappear once a kid gets their hands on new markers, colorful notebooks, and a new outfit.

Speaking of outfits, you can simulate the first day of school several days prior so that your child gets accustomed to the morning routine. Lay their clothes out for them and set an alarm as if it’s a school day, that way you can assess any cranky behavior beforehand.

Give Them A Piece of Home

A child’s mind is both complex and simple; going to an unfamiliar place with hundreds of other strangers can be terrifying, but the smallest reminders of home, their safe place, can push those feelings out. Let them bring a small toy to keep in their backpack, or something that smells like you, if you wear a certain fragrance, you can lightly spray it on their jacket or bookbag. This may not seem like much, but these small sensory reminders of home can help calm a worrying mind.

What if I’m the One Feeling Anxious?

Recall your own experiences going to school for the first time, leaving home for long periods of time, or even walking into a classroom as 25 eyes gaze at the “new kid.” During your stroll down memory lane, take note of any negative feelings, and use this as a way to explore how your child is feeling. Additionally, it’s completely normal to feel anxious about your child leaving for school as well – not only are they dealing with a major life event, but you are also experiencing being a parent to a human learning his or her way in the world. This can be difficult for anyone to manage without having a sense of worry or even sadness as your child takes a big step toward independence – an equally big step away from you. Tackling your own anxiety is key to helping your child manage theirs, so don’t brush off your own feelings, deal with them. If you don’t start healing yourself, the subtle cues you’ll unintentionally display will have an effect on your child. Learning to cope with feelings of anxiety will help you view this day for what it is: the start of your child’s bright and beautiful future.

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