Back to School Blues

The summer is dwindling, camps are coming to a close, and amazingly, the days are already getting shorter. All these things threaten to bring on the back to school blues, but perhaps none so much as starting at a new school. This month we will be discussing separation anxiety for tots just beginning either preschool or kindergarten, and kids of any age who may be changing schools or going away to college, and the anxiety that can bring. Hopefully we can help you and your child embrace the challenge and excitement of a new beginning and leave the back to school blues far behind.

It’s all in the Preparation
Well, in large part anyway. If you are concerned about your toddler adjusting to the very new experience of going to school alone, taking a few weeks before hand to “break them in” can be helpful to you both. Sing songs, draw pictures, read and participate in other school-like activities together to familiarize them with what they will be doing. Whether your child is two, five, or eighteen, paying a visit to the institution before hand can go far towards easing fears on day one. Take a tour, have your child meet the principal, headmaster, and some of their teachers. If there are summer activities that fellow students may be participating in, it may be a good idea to get your child involved as well. We know this can be more challenging with older children, but if they seem unnerved by the impending change in their life, the more you can familiarize them with the ins and outs of their new adventure, the better for you both.

Keep Yourself in Check
But all this change isn’t just about your offspring, it’s about you too, isn’t it? From the first day of preschool to their first day of college and beyond, parents experience loads of anxieties and fears about change right along with their children. This is completely normal and expected, but save the expression of these emotions for your spouse or friends. The more calm, collected, and even excited you are for your child, the easier it will be for them to sail boldly into uncharted waters.

Day One
It’s game time, parents. For those with tiny tots starting preschool or kindergarten, it’s a good idea to bring a comfort object, like a favorite stuffed animal or small photo album with pictures of your child and family, and let your teacher know about it when you arrive. Whether they want to carry it around with them, or place it in their cubby, it can prove a very useful tool to ease fears that arise after you leave.

Now, here’s the hard part, saying goodbye. Different schools will have varying policies on this, so you may have to abide by some “rules” when it comes to how long you can linger, but in most cases it’s a good idea to not make your departure too drawn out. Reintroduce your child to their teacher, express your comfort and even joy at their new surroundings, and once you say goodbye, go. A long, emotional farewell can raise their level of anxiety and make it harder for you both to part ways. Instead, saying goodbye with a kiss, a happy wave and heading straight for the door will make things easier in the long run. This communicates to your child that you are confident, and even if tears and wails occur, keep a happy face all the way out the door. In many cases, teachers will tell you that crying toddlers promptly dry up moments after their parent leaves, and fun ensues. If you are particularly worried about how your toddler will handle your departure, talk to their teachers before hand and come up with a strategy. Chances are, these folks have seen it all, and they’ll be well equipped to help both you and your child adjust.

Confidence is Key
For older children either changing schools or going off to college, it’s a confidence game. We know this sounds superficial, but you remember what it was like back then, don’t you? The better you felt about yourself the easier it was to cope. So, if there was ever a time to splurge, this would be it. If you can, make sure your child has a few new outfits they love and feel good in. It’s also a good idea to wake them early enough to have a calm, complete morning ritual before they head out the door. Yes, it’s material, but helping them to both feel good and look good on day one may significantly increase the changes of a happy reunion or phone call at the end of the day.

Change is a Part of Life
We know you know this, and most likely, your child who is changing schools or going off to college knows this too. Their lives will constantly be evolving for some time, so it is important to create a space to discuss emotions. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge fears and negative feelings towards their new environment. Those concerns are valid, and if you can’t discuss them, you can’t turn them into something positive, or at least tolerable. Nothing is perfect. Old places and habits will always be missed, but discussion of these is important for forging new, healthy patterns of coping behavior as they tackle the hurdles ahead.

And dear parents, take care of yourselves. These big, life changes for your child are big, life changes for you as well. We know you can conquer anything – you’re a parent for crying out loud! – but carving out space for yourself to decompress during periods of great adjustment will not only help you, it’ll help your entire family.