It's here. Back-to-school time. And with it comes the dreaded time of separation that first week of school. Not as severe as school-refusal or separation anxiety disorder, it still is difficult for both child and parents. This is when a child does not want to separate from their parent, typically their mother when they are brought to school. This can happen in kindergarten, first or second grade. It can happen even if the last years back-to-school ritual passed without a problem.
The intensity of their despair and anxiety at the moment you kiss your child good-bye and begin to leave the classroom is anguish. The unrestrained sobbing and pleading for you to come back. And when you do the relief you give them is immediate. But try to leave again, and it starts all over.
1. Each child has their own personality and needs for security. Prevention only goes so far. As your child starts to walk and begins to explore their environment, you can encourage this and allow them to try new things. As they build confidence, they will return to you often; strengthening their new found confidence. Eventually, the first day of school will be just like exploring a new environment which they have successfully done in the past.
2. Check out the school during the summer. Make it less threatening and new. If not the oldest, they can tag along on your other children's first day. Be warned, this will not necessarily prevent their own first day jitters.
3. You most likely already know if your child has some separation issues. So you will need to mentally prepare yourself for the day. You will be suffering more than your child. Though they will be inconsolable as long as you're walking out that classroom door, you are the one who is dying inside. And you must be prepared for the separation with a game plan.
4. Your child takes cues from you. They are upset, afraid, and simply don't want to be away from you. You need to project a calm, and positive presence in the face of that. Another tip is to begin to make positive statements about school and relate your fun experiences heading back to school the week before it starts.
5. On the day don't be lulled into a false sense of relief that your child is not acting afraid. You're still there; they're thinking ahead to when you won't.
6. When you take your child to their classroom for the first time, you wish them a good day, kiss and hug them, and then the moment of truth. You turn around and walk away. Of course if they start to get upset you're going to go back and reassure them. That's reasonable--that's normal.
7. it's when you continue to attempt to leave and the crying and pleading start the you know you have a problem. Remember, this is actually much more upsetting for you than it is for your child. You are filled with guilt and confusion; even embarrassment that your child is in such distress. You must now say good-bye one last time; turn and walk away and don't look back. You my be crying yourself as you walk down the hall, but if you return, you will reinforce the anxiety your child is having.
8. School administrators and teachers are well versed in this behavior. It happens every year to teachers in the younger grades. They have procedures and plans in place as soon as you leave. Until you leave, those plans can't begin. Generally, children are able to get distracted and make the transition in a few days. If not, school-refusal can be investigated with the option of counseling as well as speaking with your Pediatrician and the Principal for more options.
8.8 If your child is experiencing significant school-refusal behavior, never get out of the car and leave your purse inside. More than once a bewildered parent has a child who locks the doors from the inside with the keys left in a purse or satchel. There is no more helpless feeling knowing your child will not open the door no matter what much you plead.
What strategies have you used to deal with the emotional turmoil of the first day jitters?