Coming Back to School: Dealing with Separation Anxiety

The transition back to school as break ends can be a stressful time for children and parents alike, dealing with feelings of excitement and anxiety. In this post, we will share some ideas on how to make the transition back a good experience. 

Separation Anxiety

Between 5 to 7 months old till about 4-5 years old, a child becomes much more aware of the people around her. This development is completely normal and is indicative of cognitive growth and can be an exciting noticing, especially in our younger kiddos. Having anxiety upon separation shows that your child recognizes new/unfamiliar places versus those where they are. Though it is an exciting sign in terms of cognitive development, it can cause some apprehension showing as crying, temper tantrums, or clinginess. When children are challenged with the task of experiencing a temporary separation from their caregiver, they may participate in regressed behaviors  (f.e. If a child is potty trained, but they suddenly fail to make it to the bathroom on time). If this happens, don’t worry too much, they will find their sea legs once again ☺️

Strategies for dealing with Separation Anxiety

Before Coming to Ethos: 

  • Secure a comfort Object: 

If you can give your child something they may be able to comfort themselves with it. Let your child bring a lovey for your child to use during nap, a popular practice that is also utilized by some parents already at our center! Providing a lovey provides them a small comfort to rely on. (With new regulations, you may have to consider loveys that are not made of fabric, such as a rubber ducky).

  • -Start implementing your school year routine

Kids need time to adjust, so provide a head start. Start preparing children for the upcoming transition by getting back to school year routines, such as realistic bedtimes, prepping clothes, and eating at the times they usually would if they were to come back from center.

  • Arrange zoom-dates or playdates with one or more familiar peers before coming in. 

Research shows that the presence of a familiar peer during school transitions can improve their emotional adjustment. Set up a 5-10 min zoom call with one or two of their peers to say hi and “see you tomorrow!” 

  • -If you live in the neighborhood, visit Ethos from the outside before the first day back. 

This consciously preps your child. Reminisce about their favorite things to do at the center and how drop off works. You can tell them how they will be doing all these things when they come in on Monday. Validate any concerns they have, reassuring them that new things can be hard, but will soon become easy and fun like before. 

  • De-Stress Dressing. 

Let your child choose special first-day clothes — To avoid arguing over school-appropriate clothes, bring the fall wardrobe front and center. Replace sandals and swimsuits with socks, sneakers, and lightweight sweaters.

During Drop Off

  • -Keep drop-offs short and sweet. 

Tell your child that it is time for you to go to work, then leave. Prolonging your good-byes sends a mixed message to your child and can increase anxiety: If a child is upset when you leave, please know that children usually calm down and are participating before a parent reaches the T!  While a highly orchestrated morning routine might get you and your little one out the door on time, that final goodbye can leave even the most upbeat preschooler in a puddle of tears.

  • -Have faith in the staff!

They deal with kids all day everyday and they know what to do. They will distract and soothe your child if they are initially upset.

If you have found that separation is a harder-than-usual task for your child, gradually phasing your child back into the center may be helpful. This process may include staying only through lunch or nap time on the first day and staying for less time as the week progresses. 

Another idea is to come up with a prize or a rewarding activity that the child could earn for separating from mom or dad to attend school, mentioning they will get to do the activity or the prize at the end of the day. 

Books to Share

As you may have realized by now, books hold a special place in our heart (and in research) when it comes to enriching learning and holding discussions with children. Below we share a list of a few books that deal with separation anxiety, linked to read alouds which you can play and use as a tool for discussion before Monday arrives.  

Bye Bye Time by Elizabeth Verdick(B-3) When it’s time to say goodbye when being dropped off

The First Day of School by Anne Rockwell  (4-8) This book explores the nervousness and excitement of going back to school 

When I Miss You by Cornelia Spelman (3-5) a young guinea pig who expresses her distress when her mother and father go to work or on a trip. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (3-8 yrs) A wonderful book about a raccoon who wants to stay home with mom instead of going to school. For another book by Audrey Penn with similar underpinnings look for: A pocketful of Kisses 

Some more books to look into:  

-Oh My Baby Little One by Kathi Appelt (a fabulous book about leaving your baby at daycare) (B-3) Oh My Baby Little One by Kathi Appelt (a read aloud link…though not as clear as the others ) 

-Mama Always Comes Home by Karma Wilson (age 2-4)

Remember that separation is a process. Expect that your child (or yourself) will need time to feel comfortable with the new situation. We are truly excited to see all our students back on Monday and are looking forward to engaging in socially-distanced, playful learning 😉 

Till Next Post, 

Aleezeh Makani 

Center Educator

Ethos Early Learning Center