6 steps to ease back to school separation anxiety for children

Dubai - Parenting in modern age, explained

By Kavita Srinivasan

Published: Thu 16 Sep 2021, 8:27 PM

It doesn’t feel good when our children cry as we leave them in a new environment. But what if we need to? It’s difficult to work, to be, to get anything done. Pandemic parenting has also been hard. How do we make this transition without damaging our children? How do we help them thrive, and not just survive?

Here’s how:

First, ask yourself: What does sending your child to school bring up in you?

(a) Have you been abandoned? Does seeing your child going to school hurt you because it reminds you of your past? Soothe yourself. Go back in time and feel your pain of when you were a little child. When you soothe yourself, you enter the present moment with less anxiety. You can be a source of calm now. When you’re anxious, your child picks up on the anxiety.

(b) Have you been told to be tough? Whose voice is that telling you to leave your child despite the fact that it doesn’t feel good? Is it yours? How you FEEL is your inner voice, not what has been told to you. Listen to yourself.

Prepare your children

No amount of prep is enough. Get an album and put in pictures of the school, the classrooms and the teacher — anything that will familiarise your child with the new environment.

Ideas: Do rehearsals of drop-off and pick-up, drive by the school, speak about the schedule and how the day will pan out. Take your children shopping for their bag, snack box, etc. Get them to fill the snack box and do pretend snack time with them at home like they would at school. This prepares toddlers’ brains for the unknown. Their brains are not wired for change. The more you rehearse, the more they learn and get accustomed to their new life.

Connect with your children and make them feel safe

Make your children feel like you are always with them. Give them a memento, a special something from home or a keepsake that they can take with them. As I shared last time, I drew a heart on my son’s wrist and sprayed it with perfume and drew the same heart on mine. I told him that whenever he missed me all he had to do was touch the heart and that I would feel it. You could do this with a bracelet or a special something they can keep in their pocket… nothing too big or complicated. All they need to feel is that they are connected to you.

Validate their feelings

It is scary to start a new chapter, to spend the day with strangers and to make new friends. It’s difficult for adults. Can you imagine how strange and difficult it must be for your kids? Please validate their feelings.

Don’t say: “It will be great. You will love school.”

Say: “It is hard. I understand. It’s okay to feel scared.”

Empathise and reflect their feelings back to them. Do not correct them.

Take it slow

There is no need to rush your children into a routine. If you have the resources and support, take it slow. Let them acclimatise slowly. If this is their first time at school, always leave when they’re happy. Thirty minutes should suffice. Ideally, schools should let parents be a part of the transition process if the parents can.

If you don’t have the resources to take it slow, then it’s okay. Just validate your children’s feelings, empathise with how hard it is, emphasise that they are safe and that you are always thinking about them. CONNECTION, CONNECTION, CONNECTION: it helps with everything.

Listen to yourself, not others

What matters is how you feel. This is your child. You know your child. You know what makes you comfortable. Block out the noise… you know best. Tune in to how you FEEL, not what you THINK… that is the answer.


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