Inside: Tips how to help a child with separation anxiety at school.
Do You Really Have to Go?
By Brandy Browne
“Mom, just one more hug and kiss? Do you have to go?” This is a vast improvement from her earliest years of school when she would cry and cling to my leg. However, year after year, the small quivering voice remains every morning at drop-off time.
She goes to a wonderful school, full of amazing, highly qualified teachers. She has friends. She also has anxiety, and, unlike most children whose fear of separating from parents to go to school abates after the first year or two, she will always be more on the anxious side walking through those big doors in the morning.
If this is resonating with you, you are not alone. Moms (and dads), I see you. It is not an easy path to walk. Over the last six years, though, we have found some tips and tricks to lessen the grip that separation anxiety has on our sweet girl.
Use children’s books to tackle the issue.
As an early childhood educator, I am a firm believer in using picture books to help our children make sense of the world. Some children’s books about separation anxiety include:
- The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
- Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
- The Worry Box by Suzanne Chiew
- When I Miss You by Cornelia Maude Spelman
Come up with your own goodbye ritual.
When Grace was younger, I would press a big lipstick kiss on her hand and tell her to touch it and think of me when she missed me, and that I would feel it. Later, we got matching necklaces. This was a small gesture, but it seemed to help a little bit.
Encourage your child to develop friendships and participate in activities that he or she enjoys. Friendships are a great way to lessen the anxiety about going to school or activities.
Send a note in their lunchbox.
Sending a note in the lunchbox was a great strategy to help our daughter feel connected in the middle of the day. Pretty soon, all her friends wanted notes too. Not sure how all those parents felt about that (ha), but our daughter bonded with her classmates and was able to connect with me in a small way midday.
You can also use these SUNcards Affirmation Cards!
Keep routines as consistent as possible.
As much as they may pretend that they don’t, children need structure and knowing what to expect each and every morning (and throughout the day) will help lessen your child’s anxiety about the events of his or her day. A picture schedule or some other visual can help with this if you feel your child benefits from it.
Walking away from a crying child or even just knowing that your child is apprehensive about leaving you can be very challenging. I remember my oldest daughter’s first year of school. She was five, and I had just had a new baby. She also had a two-year-old brother. She cried EVERY SINGLE DAY for months. It was brutal on my postpartum hormones! I was teaching first grade down the hall that year, and I’m pretty sure I started most mornings with red, puffy eyes too.
During this time, I really needed a community of supportive friends and parents to help me remember that it was all going to be okay. You do not have to walk this journey alone…let your tribe walk it with you. And, this too shall pass. It probably feels like it is passing like a kidney stone, but your child will adjust and it will not always be this difficult. Blessings from a mom who has been in the trenches with you!
Brandy Browne is an early childhood educator in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com), her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.
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