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Separation Anxiety and the Classroom

Separation anxiety is a normal reaction for children (and parents). Leaving the familiar faces of teachers and entering into a new environment can be difficult for anyone. Sometimes the pain of separation seems to hurt us more than our children. Most children quickly adapt to a new classroom, especially if it is in the same school with familiar friends. Here are some tips to help transitions and separations. 

Know Your Child, and Realize that Each Child’s Response Is Different
We all want our children to take to their caregivers with eager enthusiasm, but children’s responses to transition and separation depend upon their age, temperament, and experience.

Be Positive
Our children have incredible intuitive skills. They sense our anxiety and hesitation. As the first day for transition draws near, begin talking to your child about what to expect and about any concerns or fears they might have. Present school as a place where he’ll learn new things and make friends. Instead of saying, “I’m sorry, honey, I need to go to work,” try saying, “While I’m at work, you will be with all of the other children at the center.”

Establish a Drop-Off Ritual
Developing a quick, simple way to say “good-bye” and reassuring our children that we will return will help separation go more smoothly. “Sneaking out” creates a sense of mistrust.

Tune-In to Your Child’s Behavior
During times of change, our children may have behavior regressions, delayed reactions or even “outburts” at pick-up time. It’s all normal. We can reassure them with positive comments, physical affection, and love. (Consider how your reactions to separation from loved ones vary.)

Make a Connection Between “Home” and “School”
Little things from home may make our children feel more comfortable: a blanket, a stuffed animal, or for infants, a scarf with mommy’s “smell.” Photographs also help. Try laminating a favorite picture or compile a little photo album.

Contact the Program to See How the Day Is Going
If our children are upset when we leave them, we can feel uneasy or guilty. Just knowing they are okay can help us settle down and have a good day.

Adapting to transition and overcoming separation anxiety may take time for some of us, both young and old. Transition times are learning times for our children and us. Remember that becoming comfortable in a new classroom is an ongoing process, not just a single event. Our children learn through consistent experience that each goodbye, as hard as it may be, is followed by our happy return.

Originally published on BrightHorizons

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