Ask Amanda: Separation Anxiety and School

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My oldest is about to start kindergarten and I'm worried about separation anxiety. He gets upset easily and has a hard time calming down. I'm worried about how he'll do all day at school.

 

It can be so hard to cope with the separation anxiety that comes with being away from our children for long periods of time. The meltdowns and clingy-ness make it even harder.

My youngest was two-and-a-half when we first had to put him in daycare. Previously he had been with my mother, which is about as good as it gets for childcare.

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Amanda and her youngest son.

Man, was it TORTURE dropping him off at the daycare. He would get a little clingy even at my parents, but nothing like this!

It didn't matter how much we hyped it up. Once we walked into that classroom, the reality would hit him and the meltdown ensued!

I literally had to peel him off of me and just walk out. Some days I could sneak out when he was distracted with a toy.

I know a lot of parents worry about how this seemingly traumatic experience might be scarring their kids for life.

Today's article will help you learn ways to better manage this anxiety and feel better about the separation.

Talk About It

Whether it's prompted by a Llama Llama book or Daniel Tiger episode, have a conversation about the transition and their feelings. It's okay if they don't seem to understand or if the talk only lasts for a few minutes.

Lay the foundation that it's okay to miss you and that you will miss them, reminding them that you will be coming back to pick them up.

List all the fun things about daycare or school. At our daycare, my youngest would get to paint and do other really messy projects that we didn't do at home.

Do Your Kid a Favor

We don't want our kids to be upset, but we aren't doing them any favors when we try to make those feelings go away for them.

You have probably heard of helicopter or lawnmower parenting, where the parents insert themselves too much into their child's life. They solve their children's problems and remove common obstacles for them.

Unfortunately, this type of parenting can cause A LOT of problems for kiddos down the road.

When children are parented in this manner, they are more likely to experience anxiety (the exact problem we think we're fixing), low self-esteem and lack of confidence, under-developed life skills (cleaning, organization, communication, relationships), and poor coping skills (low frustration tolerance, emotional dysregulation). Check out this article from Parents.com for more info.

Be the Change

Ok, so you realize you're not doing your kiddo any favors by fixing their feeling for them, but you still feel guilty and dread dropping them off.

So, how do you feel better and make everyone's life a little easier?

Change that way you think about that separation. Our anxious thoughts generate that anxious feeling.

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It does not scar him for life to be so upset when I leave.

He won't hate me forever for working instead of staying home with him. 

She will get along fine without me. 

If we change our beliefs that the separation is so horrible, then we can change the way we feel about it.

Changing our thoughts may not directly change our children's behavior, but we can model acceptance of the situation, which shows our kids that it's really no big deal to be away from us.

I reassured myself by having faith in the daycare providers' abilities. I knew they cared about my child and were capable of comforting him. Maybe they wouldn't do it exactly the way I would, but I reminded myself he was in good hands.

I asked them one time how long he cries after I leave and they said it was less than 10 minutes, typically. I would tell myself this as I walked out, almost in tears myself.

My youngest doesn't attend daycare anymore. And now when we drive by the building, he talks about his friends and has even asked a couple times if he can go play with them, again. So, that tells me he’s not scarred for life.

Thanks for taking the time,

Amanda


How do you handle separation from your kiddos? Share in the comments below!

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Meet The Author

Contributing Writer

Amanda is a licensed counselor with a practice in Westfield, just north of Indianapolis. She counsels worry warts, distant couples & also offers online coaching packages for busy moms who want to have it all on their terms. She lives with her husband, two boys, and not-to-be-ignored cat Sphinx.

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