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16 Ways to Prep For School Separation Anxiety
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For parents of young kids, back to school often goes hand in hand with cries of "Mommy, don't go!" Whether your child's heading to school for the very first time, or returning after a summer of days at home, there are bound to be a few growing pains. Here are 15 tips from experts on how to prepare for the big day—and make things easier for all of you.
De-Stress Your Morning Routine to build less anxiety before school!
Practice makes perfect
If this is the first time your child will be away from you, do some practice separation. Arrange for her to spend a few hours at a grandparent or friend's house, and gradually build up to a whole day away. Mira Jacob, Yahoo! Shine's parenting editor, says, "You both need to know you'll be okay without each other."
Know your child
If your child isn't prone to clinging, don't plant worry seeds. You'll just create stress when there isn't any, according to Elizabeth Pantley, author of No-Cry Solutions for Preschool and School-Age Children. On the other hand, if you think he'll have a hard time, do have a few upbeat conversations to explain what's happening. Anxiety stems from the unknown, so the key is to find a balance between telling them what they need to know without overdoing it.
To let your child know what to expect, have her pretend to be the parent while you act as the child. Go through all the motions of the first day of school: waking you up, getting you dressed, feeding you breakfast, dropping you off and finally, picking you up. "Just this little bit of planning and creativity can avoid a whole bunch of stress and anxiety," says Lori Lite, founder of Stress Free Kids and mother of 3.
- Photo courtesy of FamilyFun.com
Create a countdown calendar
Similar to a countdown-to-Christmas calendar, make a chart that counts down the days until school starts. It'll prompt you to organize the household and will help your child visualize the time frame. Try these quick-and-easy printable calendar templates or this reusable tile version for something that'll last a bit longer.
Find some friendly faces
See if you can find one or two other kids that will be in your child's class and set up a playdate before school starts. It'll give you a chance to get to know some fellow parents and will help acclimate your little one to his new surroundings. If your child starts fretting about preschool, remind him that he will see his friends there.
Go shopping together
Most teachers send a list of school supplies a few weeks prior to the start of the year. Even if you already have the items on hand, make a special trip to the store to pick up one or two things—and make it a fun excursion for both of you. Let her pick out her own crayons, pencils or notebooks and put them in a special spot for the big day.
Get the sleep schedule on track
A lot of kids find themselves with a later bedtime during the long and sunny summer months. Gradually get them back on schedule, moving up their bedtime by 15-30 minutes every few days. This way, when Labor Day rolls around, their internal body clocks will already be adjusted.
Read some books
Shannon Choe, founder of Premier Baby Concierge, says that fictional characters have a way of making difficult situations easy since they always have a happy ending. The stories can give your child a natural opportunity to share any fears, and often have key kid-friendly phrases that parents can re-use to reassure their children. Here's a few to choose from: I Love You All Day Long, The Kissing Hand, Go Home, Mrs. Beekman and The Night Before Kindergarten.
Do a dry run
Find out if you can visit the classroom with your child the week before school starts. Show them where you'll be doing drop-off, where their cubby or desk will be, and let them walk around to get familiar with the space.
Nest the night before
Let your child pick out his outfit the night before, and put everything (clothes, backpack, school supplies, snacks) out so that it's ready to go in the morning. Plan on spending a little extra QT during the bedtime routine, and make sure your little one gets plenty of sleep.
Don't be late
On the first day of school, set your alarm clock half an hour early to get your own morning prep out of the way in order to focus on your little student. Jacqueline Edelberg, author of How to Walk to School: Blueprint for a Neighborhood School Renaissance, also suggests giving the kids a reward for getting out the door on time: "My kids will do anything for a single chocolate chip—so that's what they get if we're lagging."
Pack a piece of home
If your child has a comfort item like a blanket or lovey, pack it in his backpack so he'll have a bit of familiarity if he gets homesick. According to Boston-based pediatrician Thomas Seman, a familiar item can stimulate both present and primitive memory via the sense of smell. "An item that smells like mom will help the child feel less anxious," he says.
Create a special goodbye ritual
Whether it's a silly handshake or a simple call-and-response phrase like, "See ya later alligator/After a while crocodile," find something unique to do as you say your goodbyes. Mira Jacob, Yahoo! Shine's parenting editor, says the repetition translates into comfort, letting your kid know that they are in a situation they've been in before. Plus, "It also gives you a firm exit point," she says.
Keep it short but sweet
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to turn school drop-off into the long goodbye. Give them one last hug, take a deep breath, trust the teachers and walk away. Even if your child starts crying, don't linger because it will make it worse. (And keep it together, Mom! You can cry in private once you're out of sight.)
Celebrate at pick-up
At the end of the school day, make sure you are not late. Then, make like a cheerleader and tell her how proud you are and what a big girl she is. Also, ask her what's on the tap for tomorrow so you can keep the enthusiasm going.
Be patient: it will generally take a few weeks before your child fully adjusts to the new school schedule. Keep your morning routine consistent and your goodbyes short, and your little student will eventually get used to school.