It’s likely that it took your child a few weeks—maybe months—to make the adjustment from part-time preschool to elementary school. Can’t blame them—it’s a big leap! Class size is double the number of students, the school is bigger, new teacher and rules to follow, more formal instruction, and less time to play and explore their own curiosities.
And just when it seems that your child has adjusted to the newness of all-day grade school, the holidays are about to roll around and throw everyone’s routine out of whack.
Some children struggle with separation problems after a long vacation from school. Even children who thoroughly enjoy school, can still struggle with waking up early, getting out the door on time, being away from their primary caregiver, and having to be “on” at school all day. Fortunately, there are ways to help your child feel comfortable at school and signs to look out for that your child may need extra support from you.
What To Look For
A child experiencing separation challenges may:
- Cling, cry, and protest when you try to leave.
- Burst into tears when you return.
- Want to constantly be by your side at home.
- Express anxiety over the thought of being “alone” at school.
- Experience physical symptoms of anxiety, such as headaches and stomach aches.
How You Can Help
In most cases, separation challenges are developmentally appropriate. As a parent, you are their touchstone. Your presence is how they have learned they are safe in the world and that their needs will be met. They look to you for reassurance, and to take care of things. This is a sign of good attachment. As they grow more independent, they will learn to hold you in the back of their mind and gain confidence in themselves to handle what is before them.
The anxiousness they feel will help alert them to any dangers and keep them safe. Think about what you want them to learn: to be confident, self-assured, competent and secure. Your task is to remember these feelings are VERY real to your child, and it is part of their process for learning these skills. Be careful to not tease your child or minimize their feelings. Instead:
Prep your child:
- Show them on a calendar when school starts back up
- Play on the playground during holiday break
- Schedule playdates with children in your child’s class during the holiday break
- Keep up on things they are learning in school, such as reading or math
- Read The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. It’s a great book to share together to help teach your child that you are always there, even when they don’t see you.
Avoid Stressful Mornings:
- Lay out you and your child’s clothing the night before.
- Pack lunches the night before.
- Build in an extra 15-20 minute window to get to school. You never know when a lost shoe or busy commute is going to throw your schedule off.
- Have your child’s backpack packed and waiting by the door.
- Develop a consistent routine for drop off: This could include walking your child to the school doors; giving them a hug; reminding them where you are going to be when your child is at school and that you will pick them up at the end of a school day. Resist a long goodbye.
Show Them You Care
Some children enjoy reminders throughout their day that their parents are thinking of them. You could draw them a picture or write them a note and leave it in their lunch box. You could also pack their favorite snack in their lunch as something for them to look forward to. Another creative way to show that the two of you are connected even while apart is to draw small, red hearts on your hands and hold your hands together during drop-off. You could also pack a special stuffed animal or picture of the family to carry in their backpack.
It’s going to take time for your child to get used to the new routine and school schedule. Stick with your routine and don’t hesitate to approach school staff and your child’s teacher if you have concerns. They are there to help!
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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