How To Handle Back-To-School Separation Anxiety
Separation Anxiety doesn’t only affect babies and puppies, it’s a common feeling amongst older kids too.
Mummies are not excluded from separation anxiety either, especially if it’s the first time you are leaving your precious little people with a teacher or carer, handing over your heart and soul to a practical stranger (with awesome credentials no doubt) and giving them entire control and responsibility for your child’s happiness and wellbeing.
Am I sounding a tad dramatic? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Either way, you shouldn’t be embarrassed about your apprehensions and reservations when you send your kiddies off to care or school, even though they’re in very capable and professional hands, those feelings are the real deal.
It’s natural and normal, something to work through, and at the end of the day, when your kids fly into your arms (tears for mums and teachers usually) after their first big day, you can all feel very proud of yourselves!
While some kids are practically jumping out of their skins to start or go back to school, others find it an anxiety-laden time, which can result in mad rifling through the backs of closets to find hidden children at 8 am on Monday morning and perhaps every morning of the school week.
Sometimes, the big emotions build up gradually through the morning and while your little buddy seems to be taking it in his stride and doing ok, the moment you say your goodbyes, the wind-up unravels and you have instant fall-out.
Making your morning a little more laid back can help alleviate some of the stress your child feels, sounds crazy I know, how on earth do you make a school/work morning laid back?
- Do as much preparation together the night before (lunchboxes, clothes, bags packed, car keys not missing) when you’re not rushing and yelling at them to rush things are just easier.
- Have an easy brekkie and ditch the dishes in the sink for later, cleaning never has priority at this time. Unless of course it’s poop. Or vomit. Defs clean that up.
- If you are having a battle with getting little ones to eat early, make a sanga for on the way, it’s not worth the battle at home if they’re just going to get even more upset. The routine will settle in and eventually cereal at the table will happen without drama. We had weet bix with butter and vegemite in the car for pretty much all of the winter months. Messy but happy.
- Getting to school, kindy or daycare and having a play, doing a puzzle, reading a book, just generally having some settling in time together is nice. The additional freak-out of ‘hurry we’ll be late, c’mon they’ll start without you’ makes kids super tense on top of already being worried. Save that stuff for when it’s their wedding day. This is early schooling, put it in perspective.
- Let the teachers know how your child is feeling, if they are tired from poor sleep etc, and early on, make sure you convey to them how your child likes to be comforted. It can make a big difference when they are helping calm them.
- Taking the time you both need for the separating moments can help make things easier on both of you. If staying for a cuddle until your kiddo has calmed down, do it. If handing that cuddle monkey to a teacher or assistant teacher’s cuddling arms is necessary, do that.
- Never leave on the sly. A young child needs to know that you are leaving. The shock of finding out otherwise is huge. Hug and kiss them goodbye, try to appear calm and relaxed with a smile (you can lose your shit later) and reassure them you will be back later to pick them up.
- Most places will have a sneaky window where you can spy on your kids and you can see if they ‘calm down and are happy in five minutes after you leave’ or if they need further help during this time. Teachers will often call you to let you know that everything is ok, or on the other hand, if you need to come back. No child will be left wailing for a long period of time. If they do that, find a better school, one with a child whisperer.
If you have younger or older children who are returning to school and are still suffering from nervousness or distress, looking into some counselling may be the best for them. Their teachers and guidance counselors are a good place to start, if you’re not getting any progress, your doctor can usually recommend a meeting with a psychologist that is medicare funded for a number of visits.
Having your child see a psychologist is nothing to be ashamed about. It’s a positive step, initiated by great parenting, to make sure your child receives the best possible help available.
Psychologists don’t just ‘fix’ kids, they listen, ask suitable questions and give them the tools (which will last a lifetime) to enable your child to deal with his emotions in high-stress situations. Self-regulation doesn’t happen easily for all children (and adults I’ve seen) and for some, without guidance, it doesn’t happen at all.
Talking with a professional who knows what they’re doing, who isn’t a family member or friend, can be more comfortable for your child too. There’s no fear of saying something that will upset mum or dad, or of getting in trouble for not liking a teacher or another student. They can admit to anything and if it’s a very serious problem of bullying or abuse, it’s an essential, neutral and safe zone that they need.
Taking the time to care and help your children through separation anxiety will assist them in the long run.
Knowing that they can launch themselves into a new situation, even if they fear it, having the confidence that you’ve got their back and the tools to deal with stress, will take your child many a great place in their lifetime.