When school starts and you have a new kindergartener, you may have to deal with separation anxiety. If you have other children you may be an old pro at this. However, if this is your first child, you may want to know how a special goodbye routine can help separation anxiety for you and your child.
Why is a goodbye routine an idea to consider? The truth is, despite your best efforts to convince them otherwise, your child may be scared that you won’t return after you drop them off at school. Some degree of separation anxiety is to be expected, particularly if your child is on the younger side of school age.
One of the best solutions for separation anxiety is to grow children into independent functioning individuals. This is the overall goal of good development, but it takes time to get there, and young children are far from this. Children cannot be pushed to grow up, however, a generous provision of care is the best way to get them there.
Our best bet to fuel growth is to provide generously for children’s dependence needs by providing undivided attention where possible and conveying through words and deeds that we are trustworthy when it comes to their care taking.
From birth we tell them when we are leaving (even if it is just from the bedroom they are in) and when we are coming back/home. Always making sure we honor what we say so that our child develops confidence in us and knows we are true to our word and we always come back.
When children feel their dependency needs are taken care of, the bias to become their own person and “do it myself” will open up and therefore foster independence.
Ease Separation Anxiety by Taking These Steps:
1) You can prepare them by creating a special goodbye routine that only the two of you share. The routine can be anything you both agree upon. A kiss on the cheek followed by a pat on the back or it can also be a hug and a “go get ‘em tiger” before they get out of the car. Anything that can ease their, and your, apprehension will do the trick. Don’t forget to say “I love you” and let them know you will be there to pick them up at the end of the day.
2) Take them to visit the school well ahead of their first day. This will let them see where they will be for a good part of the day, allow them to meet their teacher, see where they will sit, and become familiar with the layout of the school.
3) The word goodbye signifies a parting or separation, but in many languages, the word actually means, “until we meet again.” This is what young children also need to hear when goodbyes are necessary. If we want to reduce separation anxiety we need to help our children face those fears until the next point of connection. This can be done by talking about when you will see them again and how you will spend time together.
4) Smile and act as normal as possible as you are walking them to class. Talk about how excited it is to be going to school and what a great day they will have. Be sure to tell them goodbye using your special goodbye routine.
5) Help your child get to know the primary caregiver first before you leave: Taking the time to re-introduce your child to the new caregiver and join the caregiver and your child in play will pave the way to a strong relationship between them.
6) To make separation easier for them, give them something of yours, or a photo of you, to keep during the day. If they start missing you they can look at your picture or the object and it will bring a smile to their face.
7) Practice runs can be helpful: Take your child to a friend’s or to grandma’s house and leave them there while you go out to run errands. This will help them learn that you may leave but that you will always return for them.
8) Plan how you can separate easily: Walk them to class their first day and plan to stick around for a few minutes. When you realize your child isn’t fixated on you, turn and walk away calmly.
9) Share your child’s favorite things to do with the teachers: When your child is ready to play, the teacher can point out similar things in the classroom
10) Leave without fanfare: Tell your child you are leaving and that you will return, then go—don’t stall or make it a bigger deal than it is.
11) Follow through on promises: For your child to develop the confidence that they can handle separation, it’s important you return at the time you promised.
12) Talk about feelings: It’s ok to cry and miss a parent. It’s ok to feel angry at parents for leaving. Don’t be offended if your child is upset at you – strong feelings are normal. Don’t shame your child for feeling sad and scared; no one feels that way on purpose.
13) Create a reunion ritual, checking in with your child’s teacher about the day: Find out what went well and stress those successes to your child. “I heard that you loved playing with the balls!” Talk with your child about the day as you leave.
It is normal for children to have some separation anxiety when school starts. Learn how a special goodbye routine can help separation anxiety. Before long, you may find your child eagerly looking forward to school and spending time with their new friends.