The clinging! The wailing! The teary-eyed pleas of desperation! Saying goodbye to our kids can be some of the most tension-filled moments on the parenting journey. It’s anxiety-provoking and heartbreaking all at the same time. We get it! When we see separation anxiety in our children, we may worry and think something is wrong. But, child specialists and pediatricians agree: most of the time, separation anxiety in young kids is not only normal but a sign of a secure and healthy attachment.
As fall approaches and you start preparing for those school drop offs, we know school anxiety may be at the top of your mind. Below are some tips for soothing those back to school jitters and some reminders that we hope will help ease your mind as you part ways with your little ones.
Tips for Soothing Separation Anxiety
- Prepare ahead of time. Many kids like to know what to expect. Talk with them ahead of time about the new routine, make a schedule, and even roleplay scenarios like walking out the door, getting on the bus, and entering the school or classroom.
- Stay calm. Kids are perceptive and can pick up on our emotions, which can influence their emotions! Try your best to regulate your own nervous or upset feelings and show them you are confident and excited. This will encourage their own self-confidence and excitement.
- Have a goodbye routine. Create and practice your goodbye routine ahead of time, and help them separate with success. Will you do a secret handshake? A big hug and a high five? Get creative and collaborative, and have fun with it!
- Keep it brief. When it’s time to part, make it short and sweet. Hesitating can signal to your child that you’re unsure, but making it brief shows you’re confident and helps them to feel more secure. It also shows that you trust your child’s teachers to care for them. If they’re having a difficult time, try saying: “I can see you really don’t want me to leave. It’s time for me to go now. Your teacher can help you with your big feelings. I’ll see you at the end of the day.”
- Try a Security Object. Many children find relief from separation anxiety if they have an item that reminds them of their loving connections. Sometimes kids aren’t allowed to bring toys to school, so consider packing something small like a Slumberkins Otter heart or a family photo or note that fits in a special pocket in your child’s backpack. Talk about where it will be and appropriate times to peek in on it. If you aren’t sure what works for your child’s classroom, check in with the teacher about developing a plan for a comfort object together.
Helpful Reminders about Separation Anxiety
- Most children experience some level of separation anxiety. It’s not only normal, but a sign of secure attachment.
- Let your child’s teacher know if you have specific concerns about drop off or if your child needs extra support with transitioning into or out of the classroom.
- Many kids calm just a few minutes after their caregiver departs.
- Parting and reuniting is an important process that helps children learn how to regulate their emotions, trust others to care for them, and trust caregivers to return. Our kids learn to trust us as their “safe base” every time we come back.
- If you believe your child’s experience of separation anxiety is beyond the scope of normal levels, we encourage you to seek additional support from their pediatrician or teacher.
Saying goodbye is not always easy, even though it’s a normal part of life. We hope the above tips help you to soothe school anxiety and strengthen your connection with your children as they head back to school this fall.