Starting school is a big event for children. Your child will feel excited when you buy him a new back pack or lunch box for school. For years he has been watching older siblings or neighbors getting on a school bus. Now, he is big like them.
But along with the excitement of the event, children can have other feelings, as well. It is natural for children to feel separation anxiety in the beginning. This may be the first time that your child has been apart from you and she may feel frightened about being on her own. Who will take her to the bathroom or zip her jacket when you are not there? Will you come back to pick her up? Gradually your child will learn that she can get help from the teacher and that you will leave, but you will always come back.
Separation anxiety carries with it feelings of sadness and anger, so your child may cry or have a tantrum when you say goodbye. It is natural for parents to feel guilty about leaving when this occurs. At these moments, try to keep in mind the positives of nursery school. Your child will learn important social skills such as how to share, take turns and solve conflicts. He will also gain early academic skills that will help him when he enters kindergarten. Give your child time, help him work through his feelings patiently and soon he will be interested in his friends and the activities and will be eager to jump into his day.
Here are some tried and true ways to help your child with the separation.
1. Acknowledge your child's feelings. If your child is crying you can say, “You're feeling sad. It's hard to leave Mommy.” You want your child to know that you accept her emotions
2. Reassure your child by telling him,“You'll manage just fine here.” If you demonstrate through your words and actions that you are confident in him and in the environment, he will feel safe.
3. Inform her in advance about your plan for the day. For example, you might tell her, “You will play here with your friends, and then Grandma will pick you up right after lunch.” Relating the pick-up time to a specific activity works very well for young children because they have a limited concept of time.
4. Establish a goodbye routine for the separation. For instance you can say, “It's time to wave to each other now through the window.” This gives your child a feeling of some control over the separation.
5. Enlist the teacher's help. Skilled teachers are ready to cradle your child when he is having a difficult time.
6. Arrange to call the school after you leave. In many cases, you will find that your child will calm down shortly after you leave.
7. Set up a play date with a child from your child's class. (Try to do this before school begins, if possible.) If your child has one friend at school, she will feel more comfortable.
8. Emphasize the positives of pre-school. Explain that children go to school because they learn how to play with other children and they do many exciting things.
9. Talk about what you will be doing when he is at school. You might stress that you will be working or doing errands. This is particularly helpful if your child is angry because you will be at home alone with the new baby. You will dispel his idea that you will be sitting and cooing to the baby all day long.
10. Playing school with your child can be a great help. You can use role playing or dolls to act out the school routine and the separation.
It is important to examine your own feelings about the separation from your child. All parents feel some sadness because their little baby is growing up. But sometimes a parent's early childhood experiences makes the separation harder. Try to become aware of your feelings and focus on the positives of the experience.
Your child will be very different at the end of his first year at school. He will be able to put his jacket on by himself, share a toy with a friend and tell you when he is angry. The pre-school experience will enhance his ability to function independently, to get along with others and to assert his wishes. These skills are the basic ingredients of living a successful life.