First day of elementary school for your child? Here's how to deal with separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is perfectly reasonable. However, there are several ways to manage it

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The elementary school bells will ring today for the first time for the new school season and not a few parents will see off their little angels for the first time. This fact is completely reasonable and separation anxiety is something that all parents experience.

First of all, we have to admit that the first time a parent leaves his child at school is one of the most difficult, both for him and for his child. The stress goes both ways from both the parent and the child and that's totally understandable. After all, the first day at school is a milestone in the child's life but also a day of emotional loading and for this reason, quite a few children cry, get angry and possibly refuse to go to school due to fear and anxiety.

Speaking in the past to APE-MPE, the psychologist-psychotherapist, Anna Kalymniou emphasized that "This emotional state is connected to what we call "separation anxiety", which manifests itself from the first times when the child is asked to separate from his parent". But how can we manage this situation?

A smooth adjustment to school starts with the parents

Never for a moment should we forget that the smooth adjustment of a child starts with the parents, so no matter how stressed and scared we feel, we should not pass it on to the child. As Anna Kalymniou reports, it is good for the child to receive confidence and optimism from the parents for this important step in their development. The child's attention is directed to his parents to make sure he will be safe in his new environment and that they have confidence in his ability to adapt to it. The child receives this assurance not only from the words spoken by the parent but much more from the non-verbal messages emitted by his inner attitude. Therefore, the smooth adaptation of the child to school starts with the parents and with the feelings they have for this new step of the child. It is therefore helpful for parents to recognize their own feelings and to focus and convince themselves of the positive aspects of this new experience for the child".


 What you should pay attention to when preparing the child

  • It is good to be patient and answer all the questions of the child about his new step…. which will surely arise on his return home.
  • Talk to your child about your own experience at school and make references to how you overcame the stress of the first day. Feel free to refer to "embarrassing" incidents with a humorous tone. Open up and talk about your fears, anxieties and how all your childhood problems were solved.
  • A good way, according to Anna Kalymniou, that helps children adapt is to play "school" with your child. You can role-play or use objects or dolls to represent what a child does at school, what the first day will be like, what the moment of separation will be like, etc.
  • Don't forget to reassure the child by giving him a positive outlook on the first day at school. For example, you could say: "I know you're sad now but I think you're going to have a great time today / soon you can be laughing and playing with the other kids, etc", always on a realistic basis.
  • Inform the child in advance about the program that will follow.
  • Always let your child know when you are leaving. This will help build a relationship of trust and feel safer, instead of sneaking away for example.
  • Create a break-up routine. For example, you can say: "now we'll say goodbye, hug and shake hands behind the window." This way the child will feel that he has some control over the separation process and at the same time, it will make you feel better too.
  • Always be consistent in picking up your child from school, especially in the first few days, so that you gradually ease him into being separated from you.

Remember that every child adapts differently

Mrs. Kalymniou emphasizes that each child reacts and adapts in a different way and time to the new reality. "The child's adjustment depends on factors such as previous experiences of separation, his temperament and maturity, his preparation for school, as well as the feelings and attitudes of the parents about the fact that their child starts school. So, for a longer or shorter period of time, some children may cry, others may have difficulty sleeping, become aggressive or depressed, show changes in their eating habits or revert to behaviors they had at younger ages. All these reactions are normal during the period of adaptation and will gradually subside if the child experiences a pleasant, stable and predictable program every day that creates a sense of security and safety," she explains.

How to deal with your own stress

  • As we said before, it's totally normal to be nervous about your little angel's new beginning. After all, relationships and concerns are not a one-way street. It is important to examine your feelings early on and keep in mind that it is to be expected that you will feel sad that your child is growing up and gradually not needing you as much as in his early years.
  • At the same time, it is good to bring your own memories to mind and even if they are bad, reinforce that we are not talking about you.
  • Apart from that, try to understand that life has these things and it is not possible to keep your child imprisoned in your arms forever. Be proud of what you have achieved so far and let it slowly spread its wings.
  • Explore your feelings and then focus on the positive aspects of this new experience for the child. Remember that with the end of the school year the child will change and be more aware. His experience with school will help him socialize, learn how to express his wishes and how to function more independently.
  • Finally, regarding your own stress, it will help you a lot if you organize your schedule for the hours when the child will be at home and find that you will still spend time together and do your favorite activities together.