Tips for Separation at the Start of the School Year

It is normal for young children to experience some level of separation anxiety at the start of a new school year.  It often represents a change in caregiver, in schedule and setting and classmates.  As a parent, it makes sense to prepare yourself for some upset and be pleasantly surprised if it is an easy transition.

  • Take Advantage of Previews – Attend if your school offers a summertime classroom visit or an opportunity to meet their teacher.  Attend the back to school night with your child if that’s available.  Play on their playground and make playdates with their classmates as soon as you can.  Any preview experience can be helpful.
  • Don’t Sneak Out, Say Goodbye –  As hard as it can be, sneaking out builds mistrust in the system.  Children are more likely to cling harder the next day.
  • Goodbye Rituals Can Be Helpful –  Children may be comforted by a sense of routine.  In our house, this meant I would give two high-fives and a hug before I left them anywhere.  This helped them to relax in new situations because they knew I wouldn’t leave unexpectedly.
  • Avoid Pushing Them Out – It can be helpful to give them time to hang back, to observe a bit before they dive into a new setting.  In these moments, often the more you push them out, the more they resist.  Avoid saying “you should play legos,” while directing them there.  Better to hang out with them and comment on the fun or go with them to see the legos together.
  • Wait til You Mean It, Then Say It and Go – Avoid saying goodbye several times only to stay longer.  This builds more tension in the system as the children try new ways to keep you there and they learn you don’t really mean it when you say it.
  • Ask for Regular Feedback from Teachers – The teachers want a smooth transition for your child as much as you do.  It helps everyone to stay in regular communication.  It is fine to ask them to call you at a given time or ask them to track how it is going over the first few weeks.
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