The separation on the first day of school can be upsetting for kids and parents. In this entry I offer six strategies for lessening the drama.
#1: Preparation is key. For my blog entry on useful preparation strategies, click here. (Two key points I’ll re-iterate here are to avoid reassurances and the avoidance of developmentally appropriate situations.)
#2: Most kids with separation challenges have one parent, or parent-figure, that they are most attached to. Try to have that person not be the one to take your child to the bus stop or school, at least until the separation has become drama free. Separating from that person at home, while in the company of the other parent, or parent figure, allows your child to get into the separation bath more gradually instead of all at once. It’s also likely easier for your child to separate from the other person when at the bus stop or at school. (My experience is that the second parent/parent figure also tends to be the parent who is less nervous about the separation, which leads to the next point.)
#3: Be calm yourself. Our kids read us in ways that are outside even their awareness. As there is only so much you can fake, and your anxiety will escalate your kid’s anxiety, use your self-soothing strategies to be cool about school (e.g., thinking about something you’re looking forward to, relaxing your muscles and unobtrusively breathing into your abdomen, engaging another adult in an interesting discussion).
#4: Make the separation as cleanly and as quickly as possible. In this context, syllables synergize symptoms. “Have a great day!” “See you at X time!” “Can’t wait to hear about your day later!” are examples of simple phrases you can use to separate. Chatting your kid up suggests you’re nervous, or expect him or her to be nervous, which may start or fuel drama.
#5: Let whatever adult is taking over deal with any distress your child may be showing. Lengthening the period of separation, in an effort to calm your child, usually has the exact opposite intended effect. Rare is the child who won’t calm down on their own shortly after you leave, especially if the adults with whom you are leaving your child are baseline competent or better. If you’re concerned about this you can always arrange to call the school later to see how your child is doing.
#6: If your child continues to struggle with separation for a period longer than two weeks, or your child displays school refusal, consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. Why have everyone suffering needlessly, right?. To get a referral, click here.