How to Prepare for Your Child’s Separation Anxiety

The first day (week, month) of school can be difficult for some children, especially for those entering preschool or daycare for the first time. They want to stay with you; they are afraid that you will not return; they don’t know this adult or these other children – it can all be intimidating. But this year – this year – many kids are getting more than a year’s worth of virtual learning. Thigh-strapped was the default mode of operation, and some of the youngest students never even stepped into class.

Add to all this the fact that many children are still not vaccinated, the Delta variant is gaining traction all over the place and masks will continue to be an important part of their safety, which makes sense if we’re all a little on the edge now. But if your kids are going to return to school in the coming days or weeks, you can start doing some things right now to ease their anxiety about what lies ahead.

Start introducing them to the school right now

There is a reason students usually have a “play date in kindergarten,” a “return to school,” school trips, or other activities before class begins — because the children need to relax. They need to know what awaits them, they need to be able to visualize their class and recognize the teacher’s face on the very first day. Many of these activities may be canceled this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recreate some of them for your kids.

“The more opportunities your child has to get to school, the less weird and less intimidating it will be,” says Dr. Abigail Gevirtz , child psychologist and author of When the World Feels Like a Scary Place: Important Conversations for Anxious. Parents and worried children .

This is why Geewirtz encourages parents to do their best in advance to gradually familiarize them with what their school day will look like. If they are unable to meet with their child’s teacher in person, ask for a video chat to say hello. If you are unable to get into class before class starts, ask the teacher to take a video tour or take some pictures of your child’s room and / or desk. Or offer to coordinate a video hangout for the entire class.

If they will be taking the bus, take a few practice walks to the bus stop – and if you know other children in the neighborhood who will be at the same stop, invite them along so the kids know who to expect with them. first day. If you will be driving or escorting them to school, do some trips / walks along the regular route so they can visualize the ride that first morning.

Practice cooking a school lunch together and putting together a new lunch box; let them choose some new masks with funny patterns; or talk about what outfits they’d like to wear in the first week and start putting those outfits aside. Anything you can do to demystify day one experiences can help ease their anxiety.

Be open about what to expect

You can usually tell them exactly what to expect in those first few days, weeks, and months of school because the schedule will be pretty consistent. However, this year, like last year, schools may open and then close again; and children and teachers may need to be quarantined at certain times. But just because you don’t have the answers to all the questions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be talking about what to expect.

“It’s important for kids to know what the plan is,” says Geewirtz. “If you don’t know the whole plan, let them know the parts of the plan that you know.”

Make sure you are clear about your expectations and – this is very important – do not succumb to their worries if possible by allowing them to avoid school.

“The main thing to understand about anxiety is when you have something that makes you anxious, and avoiding it is very reinforcing,” Geewirtz says. “The more you avoid it, the better you feel [at the moment]. But it means that when you do have to deal with it, it is much more difficult. “

In other words, if they worry so much about school that you let them skip day 3, day 4 will be much more difficult because this avoidance made them feel so good. Instead, listen to them, validate their feelings, and arm them with coping strategies. Ask them what they think can help them relax if they start to feel anxious, then practice it (for example, deep breathing or squeezing a ball to relieve stress). Or discuss how they can work with their teacher to get what they need, such as asking them to visit a calming place in the class.

Older children may worry too.

When it comes to returning to school anxieties, we often focus on young children, but older students in elementary, middle, and high school can be stressed too. They haven’t seen their friends for a long time and may have become more withdrawn than usual during the pandemic, or perhaps they go to school in a new building and don’t know what to expect. They may or may not talk to you about it, so it’s important to watch for signs that they are struggling.

“Watch for symptoms, such as if kids don’t sleep well, get tired in the morning, or walk into your room in the middle of the night and have nightmares,” Geewirtz says. “Some children may express their concerns, some may not. And some get grumpy – that might be a sign. “

Whether or not they are talking about the beginning of the upcoming school year, you should be talking. Discuss this at the dinner table or while walking around the area. Ask them what they think it will be like, and admit how strange it must feel as you prepare for the start of a new school year under such stressful circumstances. If you know they are worried, help them brainstorm.

Check your stress

Every time you talk to your children, Geewirtz advises to make sure that you yourself are in a good mood.

“I always say that children see the world through their family bubble,” she says. “And when parents are stressed, you have stress in children, too.”

So take care of yourself and deal with your anxiety first so that you can more effectively help your children deal with their anxiety.

This article was originally published on August 25, 2020 and was updated on August 2, 2021 to reflect current information on the pandemic and current Lifehacker style.

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