The first day of preschool is a joyful milestone for your child, but it doesn't always go how you probably thought it would. Upon arriving at school, your child is wailing, screaming, kicking, holding on to your dress with the grip of a ninja, refusing to leave your side.
It is also a scenario where the mom tries her best to look calm, but her heart is palpitating with the reality she was now to leave her child on her own at school for the very first time. As that thought sinks in, another arises: YOU don't want to leave her side either, not like this.
And just like that both of you are faced with separation anxiety.
Children express attachment in different ways, and separation anxiety is a natural one. At this age, they understand the concept of leaving. But they don't like to be the ones left behind especially by mommy. It becomes an issue during later transitions, such as starting preschool or moving to a new home.
Our job as adults is to share the calm and not join the chaos to help children positively navigate their own emotions. You need to help your child manage his or her feelings.
Here are a few simple ways to spare you and your child from separation anxiety meltdowns.
1. Bring out the positive vibes Have a pep talk with your child on how a great day it is going to be at school with caring teachers and new friends. Remember, your child feeds off from your positive energy, so be enthusiastic about the first day of school even if you have your bout with separation anxiety.
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If your child does pick up on your worries, continue to provide him with calming reassurance. Assure him that school is a safe place to be and that you will always return at the end of school.
2. Remember that the teacher is your ally You and your child’s teacher are partners in education. Don't hesitate to share with her information about your child. It will help your child transition smoothly into the new school year. It will help the teacher know about the techniques you use to help calm your child whenever he or she is feeling upset or frustrated, as the teacher can also use the same methods at school.
3. Let her bring a memento from home to school Have your child bring a sweet reminder of home like a family picture to help ease the separation blues. You can even send your child off with a reassuring letter or drawing that he can bring to school to calm himself.
4. Create a special goodbye ritual Having a particular goodbye ritual can ease the anxiety for your child. It can be a special kiss, hug, or handshake. This unique ritual creates a sense of security for your little one.
You can also read to your child about the story, “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. Before drop-off, you can kiss your child’s hand and remind her that if she misses home, she can put the kissing hand upon her cheek.
5. That said, make goodbyes short but sweet Even if it may be hard for you and your child to say goodbye, be the supportive adult who can give a quick and reassuring goodbye. If you are fighting the urge to cry yourself, put on a big smile, wave, and keep the reassuring face that everything will be all right. Make the goodbye sweet but do not prolong — and never ever sneak away.
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If your child's first day of classes hasn't begun, visit the new school to help your child familiarize him/herself with this new environment. It will be best to meet the teacher — she will be the familiar and comforting face he will need on his first day of school.
You can even request to see your child’s classroom so your child will get a feel for the learning space and be acquainted with the surroundings. Try to role-play how it is going to be during the drop-off to anticipate what is going to happen on the first day of school as you both say goodbye to each other.
Separation anxiety is a normal stage of child development. No matter how hopeless things may seem, take a deep breath, smile, and remember, to be a supportive and reassuring parent to your child. Have a great new school year and enjoy this joyful milestone in your child’s life.
Teacher Mobsy Cariño has been an early childhood educator for over 20 years, having taught both in the Philippines and in the USA. She now serves as the principal of Miriam College Child Study Center.