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Parenting blog

A blog for parents with effective techniques based on developmental psychology. 

Easing separation anxiety at school drop-offs

Sara Zaidi

Many children, particularly the younger ones, experience separation anxiety at the beginning of the school year. It’s difficult for the parents too to leave a crying child squirming in the arms of a not yet familiar teacher. Depending on the temperament of the child, there may be no way to avoid this no matter how much you have prepared him or her for the upcoming change. The optimistic outlook, however, is to recognize that these children are sensitive souls with a strong sense of loyalty and attachment.

There are ways to limit these painful drop offs, however. The key element is reducing the length of time that you’re with them in the classroom. Firstly though, if you’re child is walking, make sure you aren’t carrying them in to the class because it will be difficult to put him or her down once you’re inside. Next, establish a daily routine that your child agrees to. For example, you can help them put away their lunch bag and help settle them in to an activity or you can read a quick book with them. Explain that once you have done so you will have to leave and you will ask the teacher to help make them feel better if they seem sad or upset. When the time comes for you to leave, quickly kiss your child, say good bye, tell them you will pick them up in the afternoon/evening (a time frame that they comprehend) and walk out. Signal to the teacher that she may take over. By adhering to this routine strictly and consistently you are providing a predictable structure for your departure; this will help reduce the level of anxiety your child feels over the next couple of weeks.

Often, parents hand their child over to the teacher directly. This can be disturbing for the child as he or she is being pried out of the parent’s arms—someone they trust—and pulled by the teacher, someone they don’t know yet. This leads to insecurity on the part of the child because they are being removed from their loved one to essentially, a stranger, without any resistance from the parent. It’s confusing and perceived as betrayal because the child doesn’t feel protected by the one person who is supposed to ensure their safety. It would be better to sit the child down independently and then ask the teacher to hold them if necessary.

If however, the child continues to show symptoms of separation anxiety over an extended period of time even though you’re sure that he or she is happy at school, it may be time to ask a professional for help.