Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Kids – 10 Tips to help school drop-off
My daughter would have to be handed off to her teacher in the morning. Floods of tears from her and an enormous feeling of guilt from me. How could I just walk away knowing that she’s so sad and anxious? Even though I knew she’d be distracted quickly and move on with her day, she was still feeling anxiety from Sunday through to Monday morning, and every other night when she knew she’d be apart from Mum and Dad the morning after.
I’d like to preface this with, there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with your child. Some kids just feel their feelings more deeply, and that means you can help them through this transition. After having a support system from birth, the child has to leave their guardian for hours at a time and learn to navigate new situations. It’s totally ok to be scared and need some extra support.
Does my child have Separation Anxiety?
To deal with anything, you have to understand it. Generally speaking, the most common and easy-to-identify signs of a child with separation anxiety are:
- The child is clinging on to their parents/guardian.
- Severe crying and uncontrollable sadness.
- Lots of questions around the people they’ll be with, activities, safety, food, etc.
- Needing a toy, stuffy, or familiar item from home.
- Refusal to go to school or excuses.
10 Tips to ease Separation Anxiety
Here are a few tips that have come from learned lessons, trial and error, or from other parents and parenting experts. – FYI, I’m not a doctor and my only qualification is that I’m a Dad. So, after reading this, feel free to consult with a Child Psychologist or Therapist.
- The child has to be able to trust their environment – show them the school, where they can play, hang out at the school playground before school to ease them in.
- Talk to your child about the feelings they’re having and divide them into parts – it’s ok to feel two things at once. “Are you nervous and excited, or sad and curious?”
- Practice a secret handshake at home and do it every day at drop-off. Little routines can help distract from their immediate feelings and bring a fun element that’s just for them into the transition between home and school.
- Draw a matching heart on their hand and your hand. ‘Every time you press this, I’ll feel it.” – it helps to feel that their not alone.
- Keep it brief. The second they move on to their school or new environment, leave right away. Make sure they know you’ve left, but if you hang around, it will draw out the transition and make it harder.
- Be relatable. Sometimes they can think that their feelings are weird or silly and that makes it hard to talk about, making it more stressful for them. Tell the child about a time when you felt sad to say goodbye or that you used to get nervous before school and how you got over it, even if it took a while and a secret trick you used to use.
- Set up playdates with the child’s classmate(s) outside of school hours so they can have a familiar face when they head back to school.
- Talk to the teacher. They’ve seen it all before and will have their own tried-and-tested ways to help your child adjust to going from home to the classroom.
- Remain calm. Getting stressed is never going to help their very real and reasonable feelings. Leave extra time, don’t plan meetings first thing, and show them that the morning routines can be filled with fun instead of a mad rush filled with shouting and panic.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Let them know that it’s normal and totally ok to feel like this. “I believe you” is a poweful statement when someone tells you how they feel.
Remember, just because your child might be crying, having a tantrum, or full-on melting down, they’re still a good kid. They’re just a good kid who is having a tough moment. We’ve all been there.
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