The start of school and kinder is here! It’s a very exciting time for everyone. Not just the first day, but the lead up to the first day; trying on uniforms, buying stationery, wearing-in school shoes and walking around the house with your backpack on! However, sometimes your child may not want to go to school or kinder. They may instead get quite upset. Enter separation anxiety.
Either the night before or in the morning just as you’re preparing to leave, they start to cling to your leg and cry. Sometimes they may be OK until you get to the school gate. Perhaps they will refuse to get out of the car. This can be very distressing for parents, and some parents may feel quite embarrassed by it. However, rest assured that it’s not uncommon for children to experience separation anxiety at some point.
What is Separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is when a child feels distress at being separated or the thought of being separated from their main caregiver/s (learn more here). The child may become upset, cry, cling to you and/or verbally protest. Separation anxiety can start as early as 8 months, and generally goes away gradually throughout early childhood. In the meantime, there are a few strategies that may help your child when they struggle to separate from you.
What can you do?
Make sure they are well
It is always good to make sure that your child is not unwell or coming down with something. Being unwell can make a child more emotional.
Check in with their teacher
Check there’s nothing causing them worry at school, either by asking them directly or by speaking to their teacher. Ask their teacher if they have noticed a change in your child’s behaviour, or if your child has said something to them. Is there a class activity they are not wanting to do? Or is someone being unkind to them in the playground? Take this opportunity to also ask if your child continues to be upset once they go into class – often they settle right in and get on with their day once you are gone! If things are unsettled at home, such as a sick parent, this also may cause children to want to stay home and look after their parent.
There is nothing worse than having a sobbing child clinging to your leg and scream for you to not leave them. It’s hard, and you may end up feeling like crying yourself! You can help prepare your child ahead of time by talking about what it will be like to go to school/kinder, what they need to do to get up and ready in the morning. Practise this routine so it is familiar and second nature to them. Pack their bag with them, talk to them about your (positive!) experiences at school, why we go to school (to learn about our world, to make friends, etc). Let them take something that may be of comfort during the day, such as a small teddy.
Prompt, cheerful goodbye
It is really important that you say goodbye and promptly leave after dropping your child off. If they are at kinder, it may help to settle them at an activity they enjoy before you leave, but do not drag the farewell out, and try not to look upset or worried. Smile and wave!
At the end of their day, cheer them on for having been at school and ask them what was great about their day; what they enjoyed, who they played with and what they are looking forward to doing tomorrow. If they have been nervous or anxious at the start of the day, a special something at the end of the week might be in order to congratulate them on persevering.
Seek help if it continues
Naturally, if the separation anxiety persists, and you have tried many different strategies, speak to your child’s school or kinder and consider seeking professional help. You know your child best!