Every parent hopes their child will glide through the school gates, running to play with their friends, turning around to wave you goodbye with a huge smile on their face, but the reality is, it’s not so easy. Some children take a long time to adjust to the school environment, and separation anxiety is a very real thing. It’s completely natural for them (and you) to feel apprehensive.
There are a few things you can do to make the transition easier:
- Talk about school – Create excitement over going to school. Point out other “big girl/boy” schools, if you live in the area you grew up in, show them your school. Read stories about school and all the activities they will do there. Ask questions about their school day that might create excitement, about the toys in their classroom, or an interesting thing that happened in their day. Do a tour of the school beforehand so they know what to expect.
- Get to know the teacher – Chat to her about her teaching methods, speak about her name if you can before you go to create a familiarity around him/her.
- Routine, routine, routine – Create a routine around school times, for me personally, this especially helps for in the mornings. I find the longer we are at home in the morning, the more anxiety creeps in for my kids. If we wake up and do breakfast and get ready fairly quickly the eagerness for school is there. If we delay and have a slow morning, I often get a “I don’t want to go to school”.
- Meet Other Parents – Meet as many new parents as possible and try to arrange play dates with other children. Get involved in the class as much as you can.
- Get them involved – If they have a uniform, get them involved in choosing it, and lay it out the night before so that they can see it. Get them involved in choosing or helping to make their lunches. Take them back to school shopping with you. Every child just loves getting kitted out with new stationery and goodies for school, my son walked around with his new juice bottle for days, proudly showing it off to everyone who stopped by.
- Leave a little note in their lunchbox – a smiley face or even a treat for younger children if they can’t read will bring a smile to their day.
- Reinforcement – After their day ask them questions around what excited them, who they played with and what they look forward to the next day. If your school has a WhatsApp group or the teachers share any pictures, show them those pictures. My son LOVES seeing his pictures and what he was doing and explaining the story to me. Praise their successes for being a “Big boy/girl” when you left them in the morning.
- Try NOT to offer bribery – From experience, I created a BAD habit in my kids. Initially I would say, when I dropped him at school, “I’ll bring you a treat” or “If you are a big boy you can have a sweetie”. Now every time I go anywhere, the first thing he asks is “where is my treat”. Easier said than done, I know.
Tips to help you deal with separation anxiety.
For over a year, my eldest cried when I dropped him off, every single day. It’s not that he didn’t like his school, he LOVED it, and his teachers. Every day at pick up he would come running to tell me about all the things he did, and then didn’t want to leave! He tells me all the stories of the day in the afternoons and what he can’t wait to show his friends in the morning. But then the next morning comes, and the separation anxiety creeps in. The crying would last only until he knew I was out of sight, and then he would play happily.
You have a couple of options here: Firstly when you come in in the morning, settle your child at an activity and then the method that works best for me, is to be firm. As my son’s teacher calls it “ripping the Band-Aid off”. Say goodbye firmly and happily and leave the school. The majority of children should settle fairly quickly after this. If they still don’t settle some parents do find it helpful if they stay a little longer. You can also try swapping with your partner if available. Often if daddy drops off, or vice versa, it makes a huge difference and your child will skip into school.
Children will experience separation anxiety and so will parents. Jitters are completely normal but can be relieved with some preparation. Be honest with your children: Talk to them about their fears, and listen. Showing your support and understanding and creating excitment can go a long way.
Happy school year! Have you got any school stories to share?