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Learning to cope with separation anxiety

By: Jessica Meszaros


Dad and child prepare for the first day of preschool. [Shutterstock image]

Separation from a parent isn’t just a normal part of childhood development, but of parenting as well. Many developmental milestones can drive it, but one of the earliest is the first time a child leaves for daycare or preschool.

While many new learners may experience first-day jitters, parents are not immune to feelings of anxiety and depression at the prospect of sending children off for the first time. It may also be the first occurrence where parents and children will be routinely separated for several hours each day, especially for younger families. 

When changing to a daycare or preschool schedule, here are some suggestions to help combat anxiety.

Realize it and own it. The first step to remedying the negative feeling is to realize and identify it. Separation anxiety is a combination of emotions, from fear, sadness, guilt, regret, loneliness and more. However, for each negative emotion, try to counteract it with positive thoughts like, “I’m sad my child is growing up fast, but I’m happy and excited about all the new things we’ll be able to experience together” or “I can’t wait to hear all about their day at school when they come home.”

Keep calm. Dropping off a child for school may provoke sadness before they’ve even walked to the front door. Children can be receptive to emotions, and if parents show anxiety and sadness, it’ll make kids reluctant to leave the car or get on the school bus. Some may be more likely to panic or even throw a tantrum. Instead, save as many tears as possible until after the child has already left for school, then release stress afterward. Realize the sadness is natural and okay to feel, then move on with the rest of the day.

Book your schedule. Use a child’s time in school to be productive back at home. Plan open time constructively to run errands or take care of household responsibilities that may be neglected while the kiddos are underfoot. Plan fun outings with friends or other family members during your brief hiatus. If you work outside the home, take up a casual hobby or any project that requires attention. Take time to embrace and realize the value of “me time” all while knowing your child is learning in a safe and professionally staffed environment.

Create a support network. Kids are taught the value of a “buddy system” for multiple tasks, but the same concept rings true for parents. For those feeling anxious, seek out and talk with other parents who have already gone through similar experiences. They may be able to provide understanding and empathy based on personal experiences.  There may even be groups of parents that get together after school. Joining a group of others will help quell feelings of isolation during the transition phase.

Gain perspective. This is a tip that applies to both parents and children. While change can be scary, it’s only temporary. By recognizing anxiety early on and learning to cope with it in a healthy manner, the sooner the new drop-off routine will become for both parents and children alike. It wouldn’t be long before both sides fall naturally into the new rhythm. 

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