Tips to ease separation anxiety on the first day of school
“Separation Anxiety” – Probably the top search words on Google this time of the year. School is starting tomorrow and I see some parents fretting. Well, getting into a dither isn’t going to help, reading this, is. So keep reading to the end.
I’m not a pro but have definitely gone through what most parents are about to go through. This is not exactly the most pleasant experience but there are things we can do to prep the kids. Today, I share some of my past experiences, why toddlers experience separation anxiety, what you can do before school, and how to combat the meltdowns!
WHY TODDLERS EXPERIENCE SEPARATION ANXIETY
Until Sonia was about 12 months old, she was so nonchalant whenever I leave the house. As I’d head off to work, she would glance my way, then resume chewing Sophie the Giraffe. I dodged all the separation anxiety drama that many of my friends had warned me about. All, until one morning, as I opened the door to leave, Sonia bawled and wailed, and clung to my leg. I was heartbroken and totally flummoxed. What just happened?
Separation anxiety can happen almost overnight, which leaves most parents in state of shock and bewilderment. They go through feelings of separation of anxiety for different reasons, but on the basic level, they believe their survival is dependent on you (parents or caregiver). Toddlers are too young to understand the concept of time. When you leave them (even for a few minutes), they thought you were gone and would not return; hence the tears and fears.
These can resurface in preschool years and pose new challenges to many but don’t be disheartened. It can be helpful to remember that separation anxiety is completely normal and even healthy. It is a ‘practice’ for building resilience. Thankfully, there are plenty you can do to minimise your child’s angst.
WHAT YOU CAN DO BEFORE SCHOOL
FAMILIARISE YOUR CHILD WITH HIS NEW ENVIRONMENT
My almost 2-year-old son is starting school tomorrow but months before he had made multiple trips to his school as he tagged along while I send and pick Sonia from school. Before he even started schooling, he already knew some of the teachers and jiejie’s friends. It helps that they adore him a lot and I see he loves the attention. Some times, he refuses to leave school and helps himself with the toys on the racks. Sonia has to drag him out of class, literally. Haha…
INTRODUCE YOUR CHILD TO COMMON SCHOOL ACTIVITIES
Months before school began, I shared with him what kids normally do in school and what the schedule was like. I even replicated some activities Sonia did in school, at home, so he had a better idea what kids do in school and tell him that things they do are fun and cool! Kids draw and paint in school, they do heaps of crafting activities and have storytelling daily! They play ball games and occasionally go to the playground. They sing and dance, roll and spin. The key here is to let them know, school is a fun place to be in, not scary.
GET YOUR CHILD INVOLVE IN SHOPPING
Yes, absolutely, get your child involved in preparation to school. He’ll need a school bag, a water bottle, and perhaps a keychain (just for fun). Allow him to participate in your ‘shopping journey’ and let him choose the type, style and colour of those items. This type of interaction will help to create positive associations with going to school and a bridge between home and school. It will definitely get him all excited about the idea of schooling, thus less likely to reject the idea of going to school.
This is my favourite part on prepping my boy to school! I do a lot of online shopping because there are just more designs online and more importantly, prices are much much more attractive! I got him seated on my lap and we went through heaps of school bag designs together. This was his final decision ->>
I had my mind set to buy only one school bag but he was such a sweet boy. He said he wanted to get jiejie a bag too and chose this for her ->>
How could I not oblige? He always has his sister in mind and heart. Even if I were to buy him a bun, he will want to get one for jiejie too!
When buying school bags for your little ones, bear in mind that they are really little and have quite a lot of things to carry. If you must know, Arnold has 2 milk bottles, 2 milk canisters, 1 set of clothes for change, a few diapers, a towel, two handkerchiefs, a water bottle, and a small notebook in his bag. That’s a lot to carry for a two-year-old, so I opted for a trolley bag. Bear in mind to choose one that is durable! You know how kids toss and throw their bags around; the wheels need to be able to take those blows. And I’m a sucker for zips. I like the idea that my kids’ belongings are secured in their bag. And don’t let me start ranting on the trolley handle. It has to be solid and tough because toddlers just don’t know how to look after their things. I want it to last till they graduate from K2! This series of JANSHOT school bag fit the bill, perfectly! Besides, the colours are attractive! What not to like?
Click on highlighted text to purchase.
PRETEND TO GO TO SCHOOL
This might sound a little nonsensical but I thought it was a good way to prep him for school, for real. I dressed him up in his new school uniform and we spent some good ten minutes downstairs with jiejie and their new school bags!
We pretended we were on our way to school and I narrated how things would be like in school. It helped that Sonia was very into this whole pretend game that she started ‘bossing’ Arnold around like a teacher.
On one occasion, she stopped to explained to Arnold how useful leaves were, and how her Chinese teacher actually used leaves as materials for painting during art class. Don’t worry, no plants were damaged (I told them we could only use dead leaves for painting).
After fooling about for a while, I told them it was time to go home and Arnold was reluctant to do so. He said “mummy, go school… jiejie… Arnold go school.” Translation “Mummy, I want to go to school like jiejie does!”
Children are generally less fearful when they know what to expect (same for adults). A few days leading up to starting, casually talk to your child about what he will be doing during his time at school, the teachers, other children, his uniform, school bag, and meal times. Pretending to go to school worked for me! And I hope it works for you too!
6 TIPS TO COMBAT THE MELTDOWNS AND EASE SEPARATION ANXIETY
It is difficult to say goodbye, especially to a two-year-old. So here are some tips on how to ease the separation anxiety!
- BRING COMFORT OBJECT FROM HOME
Ask the teacher if your child can bring along a stuffed toy or favourite blanket to keep in his cubby in case he needed comforting. Sonia finds comfort in her handkerchief, so she brought her hanky on her first week to school. And that worked for us!
- KEEP GOODBYES SHORT AND SWEET
I know goodbyes are difficult but try to keep your goodbyes short and leave promptly. Reassure your child that you will be back to pick him up from school, say goodbye and walk off. Remember, your child has no concept of ‘time’ yet, so say goodbye and tell your child in a non-clock way when you will be back to pick him up (e.g., after your lunch time). Do NOT tell your child you are leaving and then hang around as this has the potential to prolong the period of anxiety for your child. Most importantly, NEVER NEVER NEVER sneak away without saying goodbye. Keep farewells the same each time so you create a familiar transition from being with you to being without you.
- KEEP A HAPPY VIBE
Leave with a smile. Keep the vibe happy and relaxing. If you are worried and anxious, your child will pick those up. Children are very perceptive and will sense how you feel. Be confident and he will model after you.
- KEEP INFORMED ABOUT CLASSROOM HAPPENINGS
Read any newsletter or other communication available to find out about classroom routines, events and happenings. Use this information to talk to your child about the fun things they have been doing in class. At Learning Vision, we have this thing call the “LITTLE LIVES” and on this platform, teachers update class activities and photos. I really like how active the teachers are on LITTLE LIVES because it keeps me updated about my children’s progress in school and we always have so much to talk about because I know what’s going on in their little lives.
- TALK ABOUT FEELINGS
Give your child many opportunities to talk about how he is feeling about going to school. Do not assume he fears school, or plant the idea in his head by asking, “Are you scare of going to school?” Try to figure out his concerns. Let him know that whatever he feels is ok and normal. I share my experiences with Sonia and Arnold, those times when I went into a new situation and ended up okay in the end. Let your child talk about their feelings. Don’t tell them what to feel. They own their feelings, not you. But you can share your experiences and encourage them to be a little bit more confident.
- BE PUNCTUAL
Always be there on time to pick up your child. Being on time is especially important during the first few days of school. If he believes that you will be there to pick him up when you said you would, then he is more likely to separate easily.
IN THE NUTSHELL
- Stay consistent with your routines, both at home and at school.
- Plan ahead can cut down problems with separation.
- Stay calm, be positive and trust the teachers can handle the situation once you leave.
- Keep major changes to a minimum in the few weeks leading up to the start of school.
- Be open and encourage your child to share his feelings with you.
- Keep your promises.
Good luck and happy schooling!