If your child is just starting preschool, odds are that every drop-off time is a battlefield. Many moms are well-acquainted with the feelings of embarrassment, frustration, and guilt that come with all but dragging their reluctant kids into the classroom as they cry, wrap their arms (and legs!) solidly around Mommy’s waist, and beg not to be left behind.
These tears and tantrums are hallmarks of separation anxiety—defined as being upset at the prospect of being parted from a parent or trusted caregiver. While it’s a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be unsettling for parents.
Here are 10 ways you can help both your child and yourself overcome this. Click on a tip to find out more about it or simply read on.
- Take it nice and slow
- Stay positive
- Go to school yourself—for a little while
- Give reasons to enjoy going to school
- Don't draw out your goodbyes
- Resist the urge to go back and offer reassurance
- Get the teachers involved
- Make use of trial class days
- Be on time for pickups
- Don't feel guilty
TAKE IT NICE AND SLOW
Wake your child up extra early so that you can go about your morning routine in a calm, relaxed, happy manner. You can joke around as you bathe, eat a leisurely breakfast, and tickle each other while you dress. This is better than rushing through everything and then dumping him in school just as the bell rings—hurrying will make kids feel like you can’t wait to be rid of them for the day, especially when they’re very young.
Children are very sensitive to their parents’ feelings and will pick up cues from you. If you bring your kids to school feeling tense and worried, they will take that to mean that something bad is going to happen. But if they see you looking cheerful, confident, and assured (even if deep down you are dreading the prospect of another meltdown on their part), they won’t be as antsy.
GO TO SCHOOL YOURSELF—FOR A LITTLE WHILE
Once you are in school, give your children the opportunity to take in their new surroundings with you beside them. Exchange small talk with their teachers (so that they will see they are not the enemy), join them in the playground for a while, or even ask them to give you a tour of their classrooms. Again, all these are meant to assure your children that you are not leaving them just like that.
GIVE REASONS TO ENJOY GOING TO SCHOOL
Getting your children motivated to go to school may be as simple as giving them good reasons to. Tell them their classmates are excited to see them, “ooh” and “aah” at the finished arts and crafts projects that their teacher hang on the walls, or even tell them that they can finally drink from their shiny new water jugs and use their brightly colored lunch boxes today.
DON’T DRAW OUT YOUR GOODBYES
Again, if you seem anxious and uneasy about leaving your child behind, this will make him or her feel anxious and uneasy as well. When it’s time to go, just give your kids a hug and kiss good-bye, tell them what time you’ll be picking them up, and leave. And if this triggers a session of howling and crying . . . [Click here to read on]
(Photo source: sxc.hu)
RESIST THE URGE TO GO BACK AND OFFER REASSURANCE
Don’t give in to those sad puppy-dog eyes! The temptation to run back and scoop your child into your arms will be tremendous, but you have to be strong if you expect him or her to do the same. If you are wishy-washy with your good-byes, your kids will learn that crying will always get them what they want. So keep smiling (even if your heart is breaking from his plaintive cries of “Mommy, don’t leave me”), don’t look back except to wave cheerfully, and just go.
GET THE TEACHERS INVOLVED
Prep your teacher about comfort words or phrases that your child is used to. For example, if your child tearfully asks his teacher, “Where is mommy?” she can say “Oh, she went to the supermarket for awhile to buy your milk, she will be back soon.” This is much better than teacher going, “Your mommy has gone,” period.
You can also mention songs or games your child enjoys, which teachers can use to distract him (and any other students also caught in the throes of their feelings of abandonment). If school becomes just another place to have fun, your child will feel less anxious about going there every day.
MAKE USE OF TRIAL CLASS DAYS
It doesn’t have to be “sink or swim” for your kids when it comes to the first day of school. Most preschools allow parents to sit-in with their child for a few days to a week. During this time, gradually widen the distance between you and your child. For example, for the first few days, you can stay beside him in the classroom; on the third and fourth day, stay at the back of the room or near the door—not so close to him, but still within his sight. On the last day, you can stay outside.
BE ON TIME FOR PICKUPS
Nothing will make a child feel more panicked than the sight of his classmates leaving one by one until he is all alone in the classroom. By being punctual, you are assuring him that you have not truly left him behind.
DON’T FEEL GUILTY!
Whenever your child cries or whines, there is a corresponding feeling of guilt that you are making him feel unloved and abandoned. Don’t think that way; you are sending your child to school, not to a labor camp. As long as you are confident that he is in safe, productive hands, then you can shake off that guilty feeling and just enjoy the two- or three-hour child-free respite up ahead.
Some children enter school for the first time without a fuss, while others take a few days to adjust. Still others require a few months of tears before they happily settle down. Just remember that, in time, your child will get acclimatized, there will be a gradual decrease in clinginess, and, before you know it, your child will be zipping off to his classroom without so much as saying good-bye, and you may be the one feeling the separation anxiety instead.
(Photo source: sxc.hu)