Separation Anxiety for Children and Parents – Back to School

The morning is going just as you had planned, but you know what is coming when you drop your child off at school…crying, hugging desperately onto you as you attempt to leave, teachers and other children trying to comfort your child, and then, your child being pulled away, screaming as you painfully gather yourself up and leave, reminding yourself that you are doing what is best for your child.

For many parents, the return to school can bring up the worry and stress of this daily exercise. Separation anxiety is hard on both children and parents. Some preparation and planning can make getting through this challenging situation a little easier.

Blog by: Kirby Sandlin, LPC, LMFT

By: Kirby Sandlin, LPC, LMFT

As a children’s therapist, I would first suggest that you start talking with your child about school and what it will look like, be like, and what happens throughout the day from drop-off to pick-up before school ever starts. Allow time for your kids to ask questions about anything from the environment to who will be there to the daily schedule.

Secondly, you might consider showing your child pictures or, if possible, go for a fun visit of the school a few weeks before starting. At this visit, walk around looking at drop-off areas, bathrooms, classrooms, playgrounds, etc. Everyone, even adults, get a little anxious when they don’t know what to expect. The fun pre-start visit can put some of that nervous energy to rest.

My next suggestion is that you read books with your children about starting school and possible feelings that might come up about it. Please check out these 7 books to ease separation anxiety. At this point, you can talk about your own experience with starting something new and how you felt.

Many parents and children also find it helpful to come up with a morning routine plan for school days. You can check out the Austin Family Counseling Blog for more information on morning routines. Once your family has a planned routine, practice it a few times before the first official day.

Finally, when your child is struggling with separation anxiety, I suggest that you get down on your child’s level, do your best to remain clam, loving, and soothing, and share with your child the feeling that you notice them experiencing and then state your expectation/goal for them. (Ex. I can tell that you are a little scared and upset about going to school today. However, we planned and practiced, and I trust and know you can and will be successful with this new routine. I love you and will see you at the end of the day!) Once you have comforted (hugged) your child and made this statement, try to make a quick exit.

The support, trust, preparation, and love will stay with your child. As for dealing with the feelings that you as the parent are experiencing, try to remember that your child is scared and not trying to annoy you. Also, remember you are teaching great long-term skills to your child by having trust and confidence in their abilities.

Separation anxiety is a challenge and can be both frustrating and heart-breaking at the same time; these suggestions will hopefully make separating for the day a little less challenging as school starts this fall.

Have a GREAT start and school year!