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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Routines can help ease separation anxiety when going to school

Posted August 23, 2019 8:28 a.m. EDT
Updated August 23, 2019 8:31 a.m. EDT

A kindergarten kick-off in downtown Raleigh helped many kids like Torrieon Bunch get excited about school.

“We get to do homework and go outside sometimes, eat breakfast and lunch,” Torrieon said.

His mother said he’s ready to start kindergarten.

“He's been to, like, two different pre-Ks,” Empress Bunch said.

Many other parents can expect a lot of clinging and crying on that first day of school.

“That is a part of growing up, is to have some first of school nerves – especially for little ones,” said Dr. Kristen Wynns, a family psychologist.

Too many parents tend to hover and linger at the school drop-off, Wynns said.

“Thinking that will help the child, it's actually going to make it worse,” she said. “I definitely recommend having the goodbye short and sweet.”

Make it a goodbye ritual, she advises.

“It's, you know, a high five, a hug, maybe a thumbs up,” she said.

Then, parents should walk away. Wynns suggests contacting school staff ahead of time.

“Maybe the teacher or the guidance counselor is there to immediately give them a hug, bring them in, get them started playing,” she said.

Practicing the morning routine, with a carpool trip and a stop at the school, may help.

“A lot of times, knowing what to expect goes a long way in alleviating fears,” Wynns said.

Consider sending children off with a small token from home, like jewelry, a smooth stone or small toy in their pocket or backpack.

“Then when they're missing Mom and Dad, hold onto it and be reminded that they're going to be with them soon,” Wynns said. “Sometimes that's helpful for little ones.”

Wynns said she sees many families struggling with separation anxiety in middle schoolers and even older teenagers.

If this is a constant issue in younger or older students, she recommends seeking the help of a child psychologist or other expert to come up with workable strategies.