“Transitions, Transitions, Transitions, Oh My!”: Separation Anxiety Part 2

Coming back to school after being home for a couple of months brings about many different feelings for children. They may be excited, but at the same time feel anxious about leaving their parents. In a previous post, we discussed a bit about the normalities of separation anxiety in children and its presence in this time period as we adjust to life back in school with new routines. In this post, we will share more ideas for dealing with the separation anxiety your child is most likely dealing with.

Ideas for Home:

Implement some school practices at home; Reinforcing behaviors and routines in both home and school can provide familiarity and sense of safety. A great example is the shoe change that is a  part of your child’s school routine. Practicing a shoe change for when they come inside the house and outside can make some of these routines familiar, and thus, less scary when they do it at school. You can reach out to your teacher too to get other ideas of routines or practices you may be able to implement at home. 

Practice being apart. Practice having your child spend some time away from you.  Let them go to a relative’s home with whom you have already stayed in contact with, allow friends and family to provide child care for you on the weekend, even if it is just for an hour.  Another way is to just practice being in a different room from your child, saying, “‘I’ll be right back.”  When you come back, it shows them that when you say you’ll be back, you actually will. This practices allow them to prepare and experience being away from you which can then allow them to thrive when you are not there! 

Give your child something to look forward to. When I say this, I’m not saying treats! I mean seeing friendly faces in the classroom. Even grown-ups don’t always like being left in a room full of strangers or those unfamiliar to us. Though your child may remember their Ethos buddies, arranging zoom dates with other classmates can allow a child to see a familiar face in the crowd when they come. If they recognize somebody, they are more likely to feel relaxed.

Charting for success: This time, I am bringing up the idea of treats! Having a sticker chart where children can chart their drop-off moods each day (a ☺️ happy face to represent a good drop off day and nothing for those where it could have gone much better) can allow for reflection and motivation at the same time. Normally charts are used to motivate children and work especially well for short term goals. The anxiety your child may be feeling will go away with time and this short term fix might help them get there! 

Role play : Pretend play is a way for children to practice and grapple with scenarios that happen in their lives. Using stuffed animals or dolls and role playing drop-offs can help your child adjust to the idea that he’ll be leaving you, but you’ll come back. (For example, your child’s doll goes to school, and the mommy doll leaves and returns after he’s sung a song and had a snack). You can also complement this role play with a book about going to school.

Bring a comforting object. We still allow for loveys for nap time, but there are definitely other objects your child can use throughout the day.  Having a comforting object was an idea mentioned in the last post and since then, I have come across some other ideas such as letting your child bring a picture of you or drawing a smiley face on your child’s hand and yours so it can serve as a reminder of your love when they miss you ( a stamp works too!)

At the Center: Saying Goodbye

Having a routine; In the previous post, we mentioned keeping it short and simple. Following a short and simple goodbye routine will provide comfort and familiarity, so your child knows what’s to come. This could be anything you and your child decide on, like a special hug or handshake or a silly saying like, “see you later, alligator!” After your special goodbye, it’s best to leave so that your child doesn’t continue to become distracted by your presence. A nice saying I came across in regards to dropping off and separation Anxiety is one by Dr.Busman, who iterates that our reactions and interactions matter. “ A  little bit of active ignoring, a little bit of positive attention and a lot of encouragement” go a long way.

Remind them you are coming back with opportunities for reflection after: A subtle reminder and specific praise for brave behavior can be something you incorporate in your goodbye.  For example, remind your child you will be back later to pick them up. An example would be to say, “Great job coming to school today. When I pick you up I hope you’ll tell me something fun you did.” Then when you come back, reinforce the idea that you came back, just like you said you would. This way, each day’s drop-off won’t feel like you’re starting over all over again.

Reflect on the day: Asking and reflecting on the school day can also bring about reminders of the fun day they had! It makes school a familiar and normal place to think about. They can make the connection that they felt safe and loved, feeling more comfortable to return the next day! 

Acknowledge their emotions: Rather than dismissing these fears (“You’ll be fine!”), listen to them and acknowledge their feelings. This helps them feel more secure.  And if your child is willing and in the right mindset, you can strategize with them about how to handle the anxiety they are feeling.

We are all readjusting with the changes and routines that have come about. Your child’s separation anxiety and even regressed behaviors is completely normal. With time, this anxiety and behaviors will return to normal. We are here for you and ready to help! Reach out if you need us!

Till Next Post, Till Next Post,
Aleezeh Makani
Ethos Early Learning Center Educator Till Next Post,