Clues for First-Day Blues: 12 Tips to Ease Your Child’s (and YOUR!) Preschool Separation Anxiety
Ah! That dreaded moment… An emotional mix of elation and guilt…”‘Me’ time at last!” mixed with, “Isn’t it too early to send my child to school”, or “I wish I could be with my child in class!”, or “She/I are inseparable! Will we survive without each other? Will the teacher know/understand how to deal with my child? But she has a way of her own! How will the school handle her?”
Sounds familiar? Rest assured, we have all gone through this rite of passage. Whatever feelings emerge, one thing is certain: The first day of school, whether for preschoolers or for more seasoned schoolers, brings with it a handful of emotions – excitement; hope; sadness; anxiety; happiness; misery…the works! This is a day when our children and we, as adults, are faced with the full spectrum of life’s realities…a day to celebrate this rite, and to grow emotionally and spiritually. Here are tips to help you process and to prepare your child for one of the most significant days of her/his life journey:
It’s ok to be sad. Most of us undermine the importance of teaching our children how to be sad because we are pre-occupied with the falsity of “our role as parents is to make sure our children are always happy”. The best gift a parent can give the child is the gift of learning how to grieve. “I am so sad that I will not be with you all the time, but knowing that I will see you after school always make me super happy!”
Introduce your child to the school and new teachers before the first day. Drive by or take pictures of the front of the building; share the class videos with your child and introduce him/her to the teachers’ faces. Go through this process a few times before school starts.
Role play. Go through the process of waking up, preparing for and going to school with your child in “pretend play”. Take turns being the parent and the child; switch roles… Make sure to express your emotions when you play the child’s role and your real role!
Stick to routines. Do not introduce new routines to your child’s schedule around the first few weeks of school.
Re-establish comfortable routines. Summers are not always ideal to keep faithful to routines. Media can creep into a schedule, bedtime regression may become the norm, and eating habits shift. As school approaches, gently reintroduce some old priorities.
Never sneak out of the room. Your child won’t be happy when he/she figures out you’re gone. It is also a first lesson in mistrust…
Never make promises you can’t keep. Don’t say you’ll be sitting on the bench outside if you won’t. Avoid saying you will be looking at him/her from the window.
Don’t bargain. Avoid statements that bargain with he child’s emotions, “If you don’t cry today, I will buy you a present/bake you a cake/take you to the park/take you to the mall.” This teaches the child to be untrue to her emotions and to “perform” for “expectations”.
Expect regression. Your child might be great the first week and wail her way to school the second! Or she might be completely potty trained but start having accidents. Or he might change his sleeping habits and begin the “scary dreams” state. It’s all a manifestation of the inner processing that needs to be respected. Reassurance is key.
Don’t put words in your child’s mouth. Don’t say, “I know you don’t like going to school…but… ” Reflect instead: “I hear you saying you feel sad. I am sad too.” Avoid reliving your childhood memories through your child. If you remember hating the first days of school, do not assume that your child will feel the same way. And if you loved the first days of school, your child may not necessarily share your elation! Allow your child the time and space to be true to herself/himself.
Consider transition mementos. Maybe a drawing from you, a t-shirt you have worn that has your smell, a family photo, or a stuffed animal.
Most of all, relax and trust the process! Your child will stop crying a lot sooner than you think. And so will you, and we… 21 (days) is the magic number for any new habit to form/break:-)
CELEBRATE! It will be a magical year!
If you have concerns and would like to discuss your child’s growing emotions, please feel free to contact me on the school email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or personal email (email@example.com).
Niveen Abboushi – Founder / Director