Thursday, August 30, 2012

When Your Kindergartener Has Separation Anxiety - 11 Tips to Help You Both Through It

I was super-shocked to hear what happened when my 5-year-old Dylan was on the trial-run bus trip that merely drove them around the school parking lot on Kindergarten Orientation Day. Not normally a "Momma's Boy", Dylan apparently cried, "I want my Mommy" as the school bus started moving...

I was oblivious, assuming that he was excited and ready to start school, as we had talked about Dylan's readiness for school all summer, and even throughout the past year. How he couldn't wait to go to school with his big brothers and sister...the fun things he would be able to do! He seemed ready, and said he was ready hundreds of times, but, in reality, he wasn't completely ready, and that's okay.

While I hope that I don't have to anticipate peeling his little fingers from my legs on the first day of school as I drop him off to his new school, I know now, after the experience at Orientation Day, that I will have to deal with at  least a little bit of separation anxiety. Thankfully, we have already taken the first step in reducing the separation anxiety by attending the Orientation Day. 

Here are some tips to help you handle separation anxiety on that first, exciting day of Kindergarten:

1) Attend the Orientation. Sure, we're all busy, and Kindergarten Orientation may not occur at the best time for your family, with work schedules and other daily routines to work it in between. However, by attending the orientation, you get to introduce your child to their new teacher, and show them the environment that they will be playing and learning in for the next year, as well as answer any questions they may have. 

2) Don't Fuel the Fire. You can add fuel to the fire by extending the good-bye and lagging around to "make sure" your child will be okay. Instead, stay confident in the school, the teachers, and your child, and know that the teachers have everything under control. They are prepared to handle children who exhibit separation anxiety, as they deal with it all the time. The longer you hang around and prolong the good-bye, the more you will prolong the anxiety. 

3) Say Good-bye. If you skip out while your Kindergartener is busy, as soon as they realize you are gone, their anxiety could skyrocket, and their trust in you could diminish. Additionally, in the future, they will be watching for you to skip out and be more apprehensive about your departure. Be sure to say "good-bye", give hugs and kisses, and make your exit, with a cheerful good-bye. 

4) Leave the Bribery and Bargaining at Home. It's okay for your child to feel anxiety about their new school, but it's not okay for you to bring the bad habits of bribery and bargaining to the school. So, leave the, "If you...then I will...". Leave the rewarding and discipline to the teacher, as you're in their territory now. 

5) Don't Give In. Probably the worst thing that you can do is give in and take your Kindergartener home. As with anything else, if you give in and take them home, you will show them that if they cry and put up enough of a battle, they will pull on your heartstrings enough to win the battle. Let them know, by your actions, that you will not give in. After all, depending on their age, by law, they have to attend school, anyways.

6) Host a Party. Yes, this is optional, but it will help to create early friendships. If you host a small party, or play-date early in the year, your child will be able to get to know their school friends in the comfort of their own home, and therefore feel more comfortable when in school.

7) Control Your Emotions. It's an obvious thing, but something that most of us moms have trouble with. If you're anxious, believe that your child will feel it, so set your own emotions aside, or at least mask them tremendously, put on a smiling, confident, positive disposition, and let your child know that you know that they are in a safe place that you have confidence in. 

8) Ask For Help. While most moms simply do not have the choice, some of you can ask Daddy, another family member, or a friend, to drop off your Kindergartener at school. If you are lucky enough to have this option, separation anxiety could disappear in just one day. Of course, some children simply like to pull on those heartstrings, so expect to face some trials the next time you drop them off.

9) Communicate with the Teacher. Don't be afraid to discuss your own anxieties - and your child's - with the teacher at any time. They want to help to create a smooth transition, and will usually have some great ideas. Remember, they've been through this numerous times with a variety of different children and parents, and they understand what you and your child are going through. (Dylan's teacher actually held him on her lap during the bus ride during orientation and talked him through it, asking questions about his brothers and sisters and keeping his mind busy. And, he made it through the short bus ride..tears and all.)

10) Know that Your Child Will Adjust. The transition to Kindergarten is a big one for most children -  especially for the children who have been at home, rather than in day care or at a preschool. Know that while it might take some time, your child will adjust to the transition before you know it. Believe in your child, and show and tell them that you believe in them.

11) Believe in the School and the Teachers. Know that the school and the teachers are prepared to handle separation anxiety issues - more than you even think! Kindergarten teachers deal with these issues every year, at the beginning of the year, and most have tricks up their sleeves to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible the first few days...and weeks...and beyond. They want your child to enjoy school - and to be successful, as it reflects on their abilities as a teacher!

Remember: While you may think that you have overcome the separation anxiety problems, you may still run into a roadblock after holidays and vacations. Be prepared for a relapse, and remember the tips above to help your child through this time. If you anticipate issues, send the teacher a quick email or make a quick phone call to talk about possible problems before they arise.

Separation anxiety is not necessarily a bad just means that you've been a loving, supporting mom that has created a beautiful bond with her child. There's nothing at all wrong with that! Don't feel like you have to chop that bond off entirely; just feel like you need to encourage your child to grow and form the ability to grow and learn without you there, right next to them, all the time. 

You will both get through this, and you will both grow from it! Good luck! 

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