Is your child having trouble letting go of your hand when you bring them to school? You’re not alone, mum! Learn more about how to deal with separation anxiety here.
Your Child’s First Day of School – The Dreaded Drop-off
I remember the times I brought my children to their first day of preschool. I had different experiences with each one of them. The thing about raising kids is that the moment you think it’s going to be easy from there, you’re going to be surprised.
With my firstborn, this mum was overeager to have her child socialising with her classmates. She was the star of our home, so I expected her to blend in easily with other kids. However, the moment we reached the school, my child wouldn’t let go of my hand. She would cry whenever one of the teachers tried to separate her from me.
We ended up just sitting beside each other in the school halls, calling it a day and vowing to try again the next day. We spent a full week like that until she was ready to go in on her own.
With my second child, it was a breeze. She knew her sister went to the same school and had a lot of fun there, so the moment she stepped off the car, she grabbed her tiny backpack and ran to her classroom, never looking back. I was proud of her, but it kinda broke my heart that my little girl was so independent.
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Then most recently, their baby brother entered kindergarten. We were joined at the hip so I kind of anticipated that we would be dealing with separation anxiety. So I enrolled him in a Montessori, and went cold turkey. I turned away the moment I handed him to his teacher. I stayed within the premises for the whole two hours, and I could hear my child wailing from inside his classroom.
In all those instances, my mum heart broke into a million pieces. It’s tough. But guess what? We all got over it! It took longer for some of my kids, but they were able to adjust and enjoy school.
Bringing your child to school at this stage may seem challenging, but remember that separation anxiety in young children is normal. It is because even in infancy, children start to develop object permanence – or the understanding that things and people still exist once they’re out of sight.
So when you leave your child in the care of someone else for the first time, they wonder if you will come back. Yes, it sounds silly when you’re a grown-up, but when you’re a child this concept is as real as it gets.
Your absence can threaten your child’s sense of comfort and safety, which produces anxiety. This combined with big changes like starting school and meeting new people, and suddenly your five-year-old is clinging to your leg.
How to Ease Separation Anxiety in School
Although most experienced parents will tell you that going to kindergarten is a more painful experience for you rather than for your child, this does not always help to quell anxiety attacks when your precious little one cries his lungs out for you.
Here are some helpful tips that you can explore in the quest to lessen any anxieties both of you will experience during the initial separation period:
- Supervised playgroups help kids interact with others and learn to become comfortable in an environment away from what they are used to. You can start by taking your child to a small playgroup a couple of hours a week where the kids play together while mums chat over tea. In the initial stages, your child may be clingy, but with patience and a firm encouraging tone, it is possible to steer him to focus on playing with the other children.
- The next stage would be to introduce short activities where you could be present without being a participant. Distancing yourself gradually until your child’s confidence increases is one way of encouraging him to focus on other things and not on your presence. Allowing your child to interact with other groups of children as much as possible is important. Always remember to be encouraging and reassuring but consciously avoid being too visually present throughout the exercise.
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- As your child becomes more comfortable with others, try starting him out on activities that are centred around a classroom environment, such as art and music classes. This will give him an idea of what it feels like to be in a classroom.
- Giving lots of treats and praise is also another way to encourage your child with separation anxiety to display better behaviour and fewer unpleasant episodes every time there is a need for separation from you. Rewarding him with something he enjoys would certainly entice him to adjust better. How about some quality time over ice cream after class?
- If your child already has separation anxiety issues, take the time to talk about kindergarten long before there is a need for it. Play it up so that it sounds incredibly exciting and to help him ease into the transition. Driving by the kindergarten you intend to register him at is also encouraged, especially when he can see firsthand other children running around and having fun.
- Talking to the kindergarten principal would also be another recommended action. Being experienced with separation anxiety, he or she would be able to give you valuable advice and also be extra gentle and encouraging toward your child.
- One of the major reasons children tend to have separation anxiety issues is because, at some point, parents would have threatened abandonment in some form. This may seem harmless to you as an adult, but it does have a far-reaching negative impact on a young mind. Always assure your child that you will be there when she has finished his kindergarten session for the day.
There’s no other way to go around it than just letting our child experience being away from us when they are in school. We cannot pull them out of every sticky situation. Instead, we need to let them learn how to cope with whatever it is that is causing them discomfort.
It took a while for me to learn what to say to my child when he is experiencing separation anxiety in school. But what seemed to work is that I always tell my child that I will always come back. And I make do with that promise. And it’s rewarding that every time I pick him up after school, my kid greets me with his sweetest smile, eager to tell me about the fun things he experienced that day.
So if your child is experiencing separation anxiety, hang in there, mum. It will get better, and it will be worth it once they overcome that challenge.
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