Creative Ways to Minimize Separation Anxiety in Kids at School

Even though I had prepared my three-year-old son for preschool, I knew it was going to be a tough transition. It had always been his nature to stick close by me, especially around strangers or in new surroundings. To ward off his anxiety before the big day, we visited his classroom, met his teachers, read a few books, and talked about how fun it was going to be. He was excited and tentatively, so was I.

At preschool orientation, the teacher explained it’s best to kiss them goodbye, assure them you’ll be back soon, and get the heck out of there, which is exactly what I did the first day. When I turned to leave, he seemed ok. A little apprehensive, but no tears. I later texted one of the moms who had lingered to see how my son did after I’d gone and she said that he was finally calming down by the time she left. UGGGGGHHH…

I pictured him standing in his new school surrounded by parents comforting their children after his mom had just left him there balling all alone. I felt awful. I knew he felt worse. When I picked him up, he sobbed like I was back from the dead. By the time we made it to the car, he was mad. He wouldn’t talk to me or even look at me. I filled with dread – how the heck was I going to get him back in that classroom?!little boy starting preschoolBooks have always been assuring to my kids that their worries and fears are normal. The stories also have age-appropriate tools for coping with anxiety. We read “The Night Before Preschool” and “Froggy Goes to School” a few more times. It was a good start, but I knew I’d need a special way to communicate my love and presence while he was at school. So, I cut out the little thumbnail picture you get when you order 8×10’s online. It was a selfie of me and my son, smiling happily.

I had him tuck the photo in his pocket and told him if he started to miss me, he could take the picture out and know that I love him and that he’ll see me soon.

When I picked him up the second day, I asked his teacher how he did. She said he had a small moment of sadness but took his little picture out and collected himself pretty quickly. He carried it with him the first few weeks, but as he made friends and adjusted to his new schedule, it finally stayed home.

Mom and son selfie, photoThere were still other kids crying at drop off and if you’ve witnessed this phenomenon, you’re aware of the snowball effect it has on the rest of the kids. I told my son to help the kids who were upset. Ask them to play a game, tell them their parent will be back soon. And he did! It not only distracted him from his own separation anxiety but also helped him make some new buddies.

Fast forward and now I have a preschooler and kindergartner, which is a whole new ballgame. Both of them have had a pretty hard time being away from each other for a full day. Every now and then, I’ll dress them in matching shirts and it helps them feel connected throughout the day.

It’s been an adjustment being away from mom all day too. He’s not reading so I can’t leave notes in his lunch quite yet. But I’ve decorated his sandwich bags with his favorite stickers and sent him with Hershey kisses which are a close second to mine. I have a friend whose kindergartener loves to read silly jokes, so she leaves one on a sticky note in his lunch every day. 

I also volunteer in his classroom whenever I can. Seeing me in his environment interacting with his teacher and classmates connects his two worlds. We’re also able to have more meaningful talks about his day when I can put a few faces to names and visualize his classroom.

Growing up is hard business. What’s worked for one of my sons either hasn’t or hasn’t been necessary for the other. Every kid is different.

What unique ways have you come up with to ease separation anxiety in your kids?

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