1 Tip to Ease Back to School Separation AnxietyAug 07, 2023
It’s easy to push off the imminent back to school rush as we soak up the late summer sunsets and “past your bedtime” jaunts. September feels far away, and perhaps your child has never had separation issues before. You expect your easygoing child to pose happily for that First Day of School photo opp. Or maybe your child is more observant and slow to warm. You expect separation will be hard, especially if your child is starting a new program.
Separation anxiety is a loaded word. So let me start with: It’s normal for young children to have feelings of separation anxiety. The good news is that whatever our child’s temperament or personality is, we can help with the transition back to school (or starting school for the first time)!
So what does typical separation anxiety look like?
Infants show separation anxiety behaviors once they develop the concept of object permanence. This typically happens during the first year of life when babies realize that objects (including their caregivers) exist even if they can’t see them. So, if your 8-month-old cries as soon as you leave the room, it might be because they know you are somewhere, but they can’t see you. That’s quite unnerving!
Typical toddler separation anxiety behaviors, like clinginess and tearful goodbyes happen as these young children develop their sense of self, independent of their caregiver or parent. Your toddler says, “Me do it!” and demands that they try, touch, do everything on their own. While they want some independence, going off into the bigger world alone feels scary!
Why is back to school separation a challenge?
Imagine you’ve started a new job. You need to learn new systems, new routines, new names and faces, and a new physical space. On top of that, there are new expectations and procedural processes. Sounds exhausting.
For young children, starting a new school is similar – AND they are also experiencing major developmental changes at the same time. They must navigate the new space, new teachers, new groundrules and expectations. BUT, while adults have experience adapting to changes in their lives, young children have very little experience and tools to adjust to these life changes.
Here's where we come in. Try this 1 tip the week before your child starts their new program:
A little preparation can help you and your child feel more confident during those first goodbyes.
Preparing your child can look different for each family. You know your child best so do what works for you. Here are some ideas for the week before your child’s first day:
- Look at pictures from the school’s website with your child.
- Read books about school and separation.
- Invite your child to help pick out back to school items.
- Practice a goodbye routine.
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