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Tips for conquering separation anxiety

Separation anxiety
If left unaddressed, separation anxiety can have a heavy impact on a child’s mood and even their focus in school. (Source: Adobe Stock)

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 that first day when a child is dropped-off for preschool.

While many new learners may experience first-day jitters, parents are not immune to feelings of anxiety and depression when sending their young 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. While separation is an eventual part of every growing family’s experience and the resulting anxiety can be mutual for both parties, here are a few tips to curb negative emotions:

Recognize it for what it is. The first step 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. 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.” Outright ignoring the feeling can lead to a belated outburst of emotion or tension that, in turn, children can feed off of if they witness.

Develop a goodbye routine. 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 knowing preschool staff members are experts in their field when it comes to providing a safe place for children.

Be distracted but productive. Use a child’s time in school to be productive back at home. Fill your schedule with chores or any errands that are easier done when nobody else is home. When free time arises, plan fun outings with friends or other family members to provide a healthy distraction for aimless waiting or worrying. If you work from home, take up a casual hobby or a project that requires your full attention or even enroll in a class to further your own knowledge or skill set. Take time to embrace and realize the value of “me time” all while knowing your child is learning in a safe and professionally staffed setting.

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 already be groups of parents that get together after school begins that are always welcoming other parents with open arms into their circle. Whether it’s a group of parents at the bus stop or an invitation you see on a neighborhood social media app, take the opportunity to connect with others in a similar situations. The company and support will help quell any nervousness during the transitional phase. Plus, these parents can offer tips from their own personal experiences.

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 less stressful for both parents and children alike. It won’t be long before both sides fall naturally into the new rhythm.

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