Overcoming Separation Anxiety on the First Day of School

Tips for Tear-Free Goodbyes

Saying goodbye on that first day can be the hardest moment for parents and children. Here are five tips on how to ease the separation anxiety.

  • Reintroduce the teacher to your child. Allow them to form an initial relationship. Make it clear that you trust the teacher and are at ease with her watching your child.
  • Bring a friend from home. Ask the teacher whether your child can bring along a stuffed animal to keep in her cubby in case she needs comforting. It shouldn't be her favorite one, though, because there's no guarantee it will come home in one piece. Other favorite choices include a family picture, a special doll, or a favorite blanket.
  • When it's time to go, make sure to say good-bye to your child. Never sneak out. As tempting as it may be, leaving without saying good-bye to your child risks her trust in you.
  • Once you say good-bye, leave promptly. A long farewell scene might only serve to reinforce a child's sense that preschool is a bad place.
  • Express your ease with leaving. Some parents wave from outside the classroom window or make a funny good-bye face.
  • Don't linger. The longer you stay, the harder it is. Let your child know that you'll be there to pick her up, and say "See you later!" once she's gotten involved in an activity.
  • Create your own ritual. One of the moms in Shanon Powers's class, in Kansas City, Missouri, says goodbye to her son the same way every day: She kisses him on the lips and gives him a butterfly kiss (her eyelashes on his cheek), and then they rub noses and hug. When the embrace is over, he knows it's time for her to go to work.
  • Consider a reward system.< Linda Roos, of Scottsdale, Arizona, gave her kindergartner his own calendar. If he went to class without putting up a fuss, she put a smiley face on the calendar (otherwise, he got a sad face). On Friday, if he had five smiley faces, she made him a treasure hunt as a treat.
  • Learn the other kids' names. When you can call your child's classmates by name ("Look, Matthew, there is a space at the train table with Eli and Katie"), it makes school seem much more familiar and safe.

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