Monday, August 5, 2013

Beginning of the School Year: Easing Separation Anxiety

Starting school can stir up anxiety for both children and parents.  I found a great blog entry from Christie Burnett of childhood101 with suggestions for easing those back to school worries.

1.  Burnett suggests going to orientation sessions offered by your school to become more familiar with the school, classrooms, teachers, and routines.  Lee Elementary offers 3 opportunities throughout the year to help with the transition to our school.  On Friday, August 23rd, students and families can come meet their teacher, see their classroom, and drop off their school supplies beginning at 11:30am.  For new families to our school, stick around until 12:30pm for an orientation to our school hosted by our principal, Elyse Smith.  Each January we offer an Open House for prospective families and in early May we have our Kindergarten Round-Up.  Check our school calendar for dates and times. 

2.  Her second tip is to "Acknowledge your own level of anxiety privately and model a sense of confidence and calm to your child."  Children can sense your energy and they can feed off of it.  Depending on your child's age, modeling how you cope with anxiety can also be therapeutic for children.  No one is perfect and by showing your children that you experience the same feelings they do, they can see healthy ways of coping.

3.  We all fear the unexpected and change can be difficult to adjust to.  By preparing your child for what will happen, you can lessen their anxiety.  Role-playing what going to school will look like can be helpful.  Have your child pick out stuffed animals or action figures to play different characters in their life (parents, siblings, teachers) and act our potential situations.

4.  Bibliotherapy!  There are many picture books that teach children about new experiences, such as what going to school is all about.  Check out some of the suggestions listed on Books That Heal Kids.  By relating to characters in the story, young children can more easily understand the abstract meaning of feelings and coping skills.

5.  Let children express their fears and concerns.  Instead of questioning, sit back and listen to what is bothering them.  Acknowledge their feelings by using a "You Statement."  For example, "You feel scared about the first day of school."

6.  Wake up EARLY the morning of the first day.  You may not be able to predict any hiccups that can occur, so by giving yourself extra time you can ensure a calmer morning.

7.  Send your child to school with a family memento.  It could be a family photo, a worry stone, or even a sweet, handwritten note they can keep in their pocket.  They can easily pull this out to remind themselves that you'll be coming back to get them when they're starting to become overwhelmed with change.

8.  Help your child get settled by going into the classroom with them.  Help them hang up their backpack, put away their lunch box, and find their home spot in the classroom.  When it is time to go, tell your child goodbye (don't just sneak out), give them a hug and kiss, and let them know you will be back to pick them up when school is over.  Your child may get upset when you leave, but it is best not to hover in the hallway or peak back in.  If you're worried about them calming down, leave your number with myself (the counselor) and I will check in on them and update you.  You can also call the front office and they'll send me in to make sure everything is okay.

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