By Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
Backpacks, new clothes and packing lunches are buzz words this time of year. But for parents it can bring worry and concern about their little one. Beginning school for children is a time of excitement and anxiety. Minor separation anxiety is normal. We witnessed normal child anxiety when a stranger would reach out to our 8-month-old babies. We witnessed it again until the child was about two when we dropped our child off somewhere new. Mild separation anxiety is a normal phase for both mom and children. We experience it again when our kids go off to college.
In young children, there are several factors that influence separation anxiety, including a child’s temperament, as well as how well he/she reunites with parents and teachers. How the parent responds is very important, because a parent’s behavior is what many children react to.
How a parent can help a young child minimize separation anxiety:
* Develop a routine.
Children feel safe when they can count on what will happen. A routine that is the same each day helps children predict events and adds structure to their life. They know when mommy or daddy leave, they will come back.
* Don’t be late.
Talk to your child for several days preparing them for their day. When you leave them, tell them after nap time or whatever the schedule is, I will be there. Then be sure you are there. If for some reason you have a conflict and cannot pick them up, tell them who will and what they can expect. This helps your child feel secure and in control.
* Stay positive.
If you act worried, concerned or weepy, your child will follow your emotion. Be upbeat about the activities and meeting new friends. Whatever the child enjoys, make sure you promote that activity as much as you can.
* Follow the instructor’s rules.
Your child will form a relationship with their teacher and whatever the teacher says is your child’s truth. You may know more about a topic than your child’s teacher, but they will correct you if your story doesn’t match their teacher. If your child’s teacher has a rule, respect it as much as possible at home as well. An example is not allowing certain words to be said. No matter what the word is, if it is negative at school, do not say the word at home.
* Know and promote your child’s school friends to meet outside of school.
Helping your child build friendships will help ease their school anxiety. If you know someone in the class, inviting that child over with their parent prior to school will help your child adjust more easily.
* Develop a bedtime routine at least two weeks prior to the school year beginning.
This will help your child feel more rested.
* Let your child help you pack their snack, lunch and backpack for school with necessary items for the first day of school.
This list is usually sent to parents prior to the first day of school.
* Build confidence.
When your child is making a new transition, such as beginning school or starting a new grade in school, talking about it, reading stories about school, and watching cartoons about the subject matter help alleviate worry and fear about the unknown. A parent’s goal should be to help their child feel confident that they will be well cared for.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article shortly…..
– Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.