School will be starting in just a few short weeks which can be simultaneously exciting and scary for both the parents and children, especially for young preschoolers who are going to school for the very first time. Whenever someone talks about separation anxiety people think of a wailing child. However, it’s not at all unusual to bump into weepy parents who are reluctant to leave the school on the first day. Here are some strategies that may help everyone achieve this new milestone with a happier outlook:
Warm-up strategy: Visit the classroom with your child and meet the teacher before the big day. This will give him an opportunity explore his surroundings while you are close by. You can also take this opportunity to discuss any concerns you may have with the teacher. In turn, she may have some helpful suggestions.
Exit strategy: Decide in advance how you want to leave your child in the classroom. Will you exit quietly while she’s distracted by a new toy or friend, or would you prefer to say goodbye with a quick kiss and a promise to be back soon. You may want to develop a goodbye ritual that involves a special handshake or wave.
Transitional strategy: Sometimes a child may want to take a lovey or favorite toy with them the first day/week of school. Just be sure to check with the teacher first. Consider another type of momento such as a lunch box love note or tucking a small piece of a favorite blanket in their pocket. A small picture of the family can also be comforting.
Reward strategy: Devise a reward system using stickers for the days your child goes to school without putting up a fuss. Then at the end of the week, do something special such as go to a favorite park or get some ice cream.
Play date strategy: In the midst of all the newness, make a play date with an old friend. Later on, when new friends have been made, make play dates with them too.
Familiar routines strategy: Keep things stable around the home by sticking to familiar routines. A child is more likely to suffer from separation anxiety if they are hungry or tired, so make sure he gets a good night’s sleep and has a healthy breakfast.
When to Seek Intervention
Every young child (and parent) suffers from mild forms of anxiety – especially in the early years. However, it becomes a problem when it affects their quality of daily life. Left untreated, it can become a more serious problem in upper grades. Some of the red flags you should look out for are:
- Frequent crying and/or tantrums
- Recurring nightmares or night terrors
- Persistent physical complaints
- Constantly worrying about family and friends
- Unreasonable fears about being lost or kidnapped
- Refuses to go to school
- Chronic sleep issues
It’s always painful to see your child suffer from any type of worry or concern, but it can be even more so if you suspect the anxiety is cause for a deeper concern. Consult with a qualified mental health professional who can evaluate your child and help you understand separation anxiety while developing coping skills that will help during severe anxiety episodes.