Tantrums, crying, complaints of physical symptoms and refusal to go back to school. Those are just some of the behaviors parents endure when their kids feel nervous about being away from home.
Separation anxiety isn’t just limited to the beginning of the school year. It can pop up after any type of change, such as a long period of being home, an illness or a family vacation. Changes at home like a new baby, a parent traveling or a move can also cause children to cling a bit more to the people most familiar to them.
The good news is that separation anxiety is usually just a stage. Kids often phase out of the behaviors. But you can help give your child the skills to cope better with goodbyes. Here are some techniques you can try to help your child feel more comfortable.
- Prepare for the Transition to School
Before the first day, take your child to school and introduce him to the teacher. Show him around the classroom and point out his desk. Talk to him about the upcoming experience in a positive way, mentioning the friends he will make and the interesting things he will learn.
- Allow a Small Object to be Taken to School
With the teacher’s permission, allow your child to bring an object like a stuffed animal from home. This can give him something to cling to until the feeling of newness diminishes and he becomes engaged in this new stage in his life.
- Establish a Quick, Consistent and Firm Goodbye Ritual
Resist the urge to extend the goodbye ritual at the sight of tears. Rather, stay calm and reassure your child you will be back. State when you will return in terms he can understand. After you leave, it is very likely your child’s upset feelings will quickly dissipate.
- Foster Trust
Don’t give your child any reason not to trust you, such as sneaking out when he is not looking. Always be sure you return for him at the appointed time.
- Don’t Give In
While it may be tempting to spare your child from situations that make them anxious like a school trip or your night out, don’t give in. Empathize with your child, talk to them about your schedule and when you’ll be back and reinforce that you love them. But then hold the line. If you help your child avoid situations you will reinforce that there is something to worry about.
- Use Positive Reinforcement
Turn small accomplishments into opportunities to praise and encourage your child. This could involve a good report from school or a drawing he brings home. Even a mention of how he caught the ball in a game during recess can be a chance to provide positive reinforcement.
- Arrange Reminders of Your Love
Including a note in your child’s lunchbox can be comforting and reassuring. A simple “I love you” written on a napkin may be just what he needs to give him confidence for the day. In addition to sending notes, think of ways that will remind your child of your love during the school day. One idea is to laminate a picture of the family with a message of “I love you” written on the bottom. Tape it to his backpack or the outside cover of a notebook.
- Change the Subject
On the way to school, if your child is saying how much he doesn’t want to go, distract him by changing the subject. You can divert his attention by making a game of counting how many school buses you pass or by talking about something in which he is interested.
- Get Professional Help if the Anxiety Doesn’t Disappear
If your child’s anxiety seems intense or if it doesn’t disappear after a few weeks, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Counseling for both you and the child can identify factors contributing to the problem and guide you in how to ease his distress.