9 strategies to help a child with separation anxiety at school
After two months at home, children leaving the nest may fuel intense separation anxiety. Add to that new rules about masks and social distancing, not to mention fear of the virus itself. Separation anxiety is real. It is most intense for toddlers, but even teenagers leaving for university may have a tougher time than usual this year. Even children who once went to school happily may find themselves clinging to their parents.
Many children will have some difficulty adjusting to going back to school. Parents needed to expect this, and accept it would be an unfolding process, said Dr Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, psychologist and author of The Tantrum Survival Guide.
With children heading to classrooms soon, here are nine strategies to help them with separation anxiety at school.
1. Do a trial run: Visiting school before it begins can be a comfort, even if you’re just walking around the perimeter and talking about what to expect, suggested Jennifer Miller, a family and educational consultant and founder of Confident Parents, Confident Kids.
2. Talk about it ... but not too much: Talk about what’s new this year. Will there be extra hand-washing or a new lunch routine? And talk about what will be the same — maybe some familiar play equipment or materials.
3. Pay attention to their feelings: Listen if the child wants to talk without trying to talk the child out of their feelings. Let children know that even if they are nervous, they can face their fears with your support.
4. Give your child a memento: Allow your child to have a scarf or handkerchief of yours, or buy a small teddy or blanket (especially for toddlers) to place in their backpack. For older children, a piece of your jewellery, a trinket or photo can do the same trick.
5. Take it slow: Parents and teachers should expect children to need extra support this year. Parents should allow for baby steps — maybe a shorter time at school for those starting Early Childhood Development.
6. Create a routine: Staggered school schedules could mean an even longer adjustment period, as children may have a harder time adjusting to an irregular routine. Even if your child is in school two days a week, try to establish a home routine on off days.
7. Lighten up: A healthy dose of laughter may be just what your child needs to keep things from getting too heavy.
8. Be honest: You may not have all the answers. You may not know what school will look like, or if it will shut down suddenly again. It’s okay to admit that.
9. Say goodbye and mean it: Before you leave, let your child know who will pick them up and when you will see them again. If the child cries, give a good hug and kiss and tell them when you’ll see them.