Dealing with separation anxiety when kids return to school can be heartbreaking. Whether it's kindergarten or university, many parents struggle with tears and phone calls during this time of change. It takes strength and trust in the teachers to leave your child to a new schedule and a new stage of their life. Here are a few ideas of what may help to mitigate the anxiety for both of you.
1. Visit the school the week before the kids return. The teachers will be there preparing for the year and it can be a great and low-stress introduction for your child.
2. Shake the teacher's hand in front of your child and appear to be 'on the same team' so that your child senses a 'hand-off' of trust and responsibility. Kids take their cues from you, and if you trust someone, they probably will, too.
3. Lunch box notes are a great way to help them feel your presence throughout the day. You can also write 'secret' messages onto the skin of bananas using toothpicks and they will magically appear by lunchtime.
4. Take time to meet their friends and get to know the names of their classmates. Letting them play in the school yard when you pick them up is a great way to do this as well as share information with other parents.
5. Talk about the exciting parts of school throughout the month of August -- seeing friends, classroom activities, favorite routines...
6. Doing some back to school shopping together can help get them excited -- especially if they choose an outfit or backpack that they have to wait to use on the first day of school.
7. A goodbye ritual is always a good idea. Remember to be strong and try not to come back. The teachers can reach you if they need to.
8. If they are complaining of a tummy ache or other symptom don't dismiss them -- give them lots of love and attention. As we all know, stress can cause many physical reactions.
9. Talk openly with your child about your own anxieties when you were a child to let them know that they are not alone.
10. Teach techniques to deal with stress such as belly breathing and stretching. Kid's yoga is a great way to do this.
11. Books are a great way to introduce a transition.
12. Role-playing at home is a fantastic way to practice what the transition may hold.
13. After weeks of tears when he first attended kindergarten, I realized that my son was concerned about getting 'lost'. A kid's ID bracelet with all of my contact information inside as well as ID tags inside his backpack turned things around within a day. It gave him the confidence he needed.
14. Sending a lovey in the backpack works in the same way -- just don't let them leave it at school if you want them to sleep at night!
Good luck, and remember that separation anxiety is not a failing on the part of a parent and child. It means that you've done a great job bonding and connecting with your little one. It's important to remember that separation anxiety is a normal and healthy developmental milestone for children and though it can be frustrating, your care and consideration is helping teach children to deal with adversity.