As the Directress of a preschool for many years, I have given talks to many parents on how to say goodbye to their children at the beginning of the school year. It is important for me to assure them that separation anxiety is a natural part of going to school for children, and that each child’s response to separation is unique to their temperament and personality.
Equally important, is for them to understand that some children easily accommodate to new situations while other children do not. In most cases, however, school separation quickly passes away. Sometimes, it may be a little bit more persistent, but even in such cases, I have always found that parents and teachers will be able to arm their children with better coping skills if they themselves are equipped with simple but sensible strategies.
As such, here are some suggestions that have helped make the separation between parents and children a little smoother:
Put on a happy face. Before you leave your child at school, be loving but firm. Give your child a warm hug and put on a happy face, even if you are crying inside. Doing so will assure your child that you love him or her. You may also say, “Mommy loves you and will miss you today, but when I pick you up after school I’ll be so happy to see you.”
Do not sneak off, make your exits honest and ‘crisp.’ If parents or caregivers disappear, it only conveys to a child that he or she cannot trust them. This only makes the situation worse, and builds more anxiety within the child. Parents and/or caregivers should never sneak out of the room or keep coming back for a last hug or kiss. The caring thing to do is to get out efficiently and effectively. You should always be matter-of-factly when leaving. Even if you are hesitant yourself, put on a brave front and tell your child that you must leave—and then leave—but that you will see each other later.
Do not waiver. School is a must. Never let your child stay home if you know that he or she is feigning illness, or “just because.” Be positive, talk about all the positive sides of school—the fun activities like meeting new friends and reading a new story. Also, make departures from home to school quick and matter-of-fact, being careful not to feed drama. However, it is also important to validate your child’s feelings. Listen to what he or she has to say and reassure his or her apprehensions—but when it’s time for school, he or se goes!
Keep your ‘good-bye’s’ brief. Long good byes only increase your child’s anxiety. Remember, our emotions can directly influence how our children feel. Therefore, if we feel anxious, our children feel anxious. Once you say goodbye, avoid returning for additional goodbyes. This creates confusion and can make it more difficult for children to settle into the school routine. And, contrary to what many parents think, an easy or difficult time saying goodbye is not a reflection of their bond with their child.
Have your child come to school with some reminder of home. A small memento such as a family photo or special toy will help make the connection to home and bridge the child’s sense of the familiar with the unfamiliar. It also gives the teacher plenty opportunity to talk to the child about something he or she is familiar with, allowing the bond of trust to develop naturally between teacher and child.
Remember that children handle separation differently. There are generally two basic groups of children: a separation group and a non-separation group. The first group represents children who manifest difficulty in separating from their parents or caregivers while second group represents children who show little or no objective signs. Regardless of what group a child may be categorized, the problem of separation will most likely pass away quickly.
Tears are understandable. The anxiety exhibited by children is a sign of a child’s fear of losing a “love object.” It is also a natural process that involves dealing with new and difficult situations. This, in turn, results in the awareness of dependency and helplessness. This process, also known as the “coping style” of a child, eventually leads to mastery of the new situation.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Always keep your promise to your child. If you say that you will pick up your child after school, be sure to be waiting outside when dismissal time comes so that your child sees you immediately. This reinforces the trust between you and your child, and it lessens the anxiety he or she is feeling. Barbara Willer, deputy executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) also suggests letting a child know what comes after school. “I wouldn’t plan for either bribes or rewards, but you want to plan something that is special like going to the playground or taking a walk. It’s often a way for them to look forward to something,” she says.
Trust your child’s teacher. It is important that you introduce your children to their teacher to let them know who is going to take care of them while you are gone. It also gives the children an assurance that their teachers are mommy’s or daddy’s friends. Be assured that the teachers are equipped to handle your children’s distress. It is easier for a children to warm up to a teacher if that can see that parents themselves trust their teachers.
Teachers—at least good and truly qualified teachers—are well aware that the separation experiences of each child vary greatly, and therefore make a conscious effort to provide the children with as much tender loving care and attention as they need. Their efforts will certainly pay off. For, although the weaning period may vary in length and intensity, rest assured, all children would eventually be weaned into happy, self- assured children.