Separation anxiety in children is a common challenge. In fact, separation anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder in children under 12. Whether your child is starting kindergarten in September or starting daycare for the first time, they may deal with a bit of anxiety those first few days or weeks. This will most likely fade as your child grows and gains confidence at school, but it can be worrisome for parents and children alike with big transitions like starting school or a new daycare on the horizon.
Following these five steps will put you and your child in the best position to face separation anxiety together:
1. Practice separation with your child
Like anything, practice improves our abilities. If your child has been with you for all of their waking hours, they’ll need to practice being away from you to grow familiar with the concept. Ask a family member or trusted friend to watch your child for a few hours, and repeat this several times before you start school or begin daycare. Without practice, your child hasn’t learned to trust you. If you never leave her, she has no occasion to trust that you always come back. Being apart and faithfully returning builds trust and trust is a strong antidote to fear.
2. Get into a routine with your child
With the beginning of a new season comes a new routine. Separation anxiety and any anxiety thrive in stressful moments. Mornings can be stressful if they are poorly planned, so get into a stable routine allowing plenty of time to dress, eat, and organize before leaving for school or daycare. This may mean an earlier sleep and wake time for your child and packing lunches the night before.
3. Pack something familiar for lunch
Speaking of lunches, food is linked to comfort and memory, so pack familiar favourites in your child’s lunch. Love Ducks, Pat-A-Cakes, and Oaty Chomps are favourites that pack well in any lunch. Write a note in your child’s lunch bag for him to find as he eats his lunch. For little ones, tell them in the morning that you’ve packed a surprise in their lunch and let them discover a picture you’ve drawn for them.
4. keep a light schedule
Giving your child the space to process transition and establish trusting relationships requires quality time. Quality time is not something you can schedule, but something to make daily space for. There are so many enrichment activities and opportunities for parents today, but consider eliminating the social clutter in their life, particularly during the transition. Once your child is feeling settled into his new routine with school or daycare, test drive an additional commitment such as swimming lessons or music group, but allow him a calm pace to navigate the changes within.
5. reinforce bonds at home
Separation anxiety can be lessened by strong trusting bonds with caregivers and parents. Weeks before your child starts at school or daycare, start the conversation and keep the discussion light and open. Mention that they’ll be starting school soon, ask them how they feel, and remind them that this is a new and exciting part of life but your love and care for them will never change. Carve out special time together for these important conversations and simply quality time. Every time your child has an opportunity to trust you, she’s gaining confidence in her bond with you. Asking questions, sharing your own thoughts about school or daycare, and reminding them regularly that you’ll always be there can go a long way.
As the upcoming transition approaches you can guide your child through it with these intentional steps. Will that first day of pre-K or daycare bring you to your knees and fill your eyes with tears? Probably! It’s a hard transition for parents, too! These firsts are some of many you’ll have in your life as a parent, and while it gets easier, it might be challenging at first. Day by day, you’ll get there, and you and your child can thrive in this new routine.