Different kids handle separation anxiety in different ways. The better you know your child's separation style, the more you can help him get through the first day of school.
What he's feeling: I'm sad to leave my mom and dad and be alone in a strange place.
Your response: Try not to look worried -- kids pick up on that. Remind your child how much fun school will be and that you'll be back to get him a little later. You can also reassure him that his teacher is there to help him and make him feel better.
P.S. He'll stop crying soon after you leave. If you want some reassurance of your own, ask someone at the school to call you later to tell you how he's doing.
The Brave (But Scared) Child
What she's feeling: Not gonna cry, not gonna cry, not gonna cry. Not even gonna say goodbye because that'll make me cry. Just gonna knead this Play-Doh like crazy.
Your response: Don't panic if she doesn't say goodbye. She's just trying to hold it together. Say goodbye, but don't pressure her to respond. And don't talk about how you'll miss her or how sad you'll be without her -- it'll make her feel bad.
P.S. There's a chance she'll completely lose it when she sees you at the end of the day because she's been holding her feelings in. Make sure you spend some relaxing, calm bonding time together after school.
The Delayed Reactor
What he's feeling: I'm cool with school. I'm cool with school. Then, a few days or a few weeks later.... Wait -- where's my mommy?!
Your response: Talk to him about the things that he enjoyed so much at the beginning. Speak with his teacher so she can give him a little extra attention. Also, try to develop a quick goodbye ritual, like a handshake or a wink, that you can do as you leave.
P.S. It's not that your child suddenly decided he doesn't like school. He was just so caught up in all the new experiences that he didn't even realize he'd been away from Mom and Dad. He'll bounce back.
The Silent Observer
What she's feeling: Let me check out what's going on around here before I jump in and start playing with these kids.
Your response: Give your child time to adjust to her new environment. Then help her get used to the idea of becoming involved by reading books about school together, playing school at home, and talking about the teachers and children.
P.S. Remember that your kid is learning as she's observing. You might want to talk to her teacher about helping her find her comfort zone so she can get more involved.
Originally published in the September 2007 issue of Parents magazine.