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Those Good-Bye Blues! Advice on Adjusting to School
It is normal for any parent and child to feel anxious about separating from one another. The first day of school can be a nightmare for the both of you. To make the separation less painful and stressful, there are a few things that one can do.

The first thing to realize is that separation anxiety is a developmental phase which most children experience. If your child cries or throws a tantrum when being left at school and if you feel guilty about leaving your child, you should understand that this is a sign of healthy attachment. Be proud! When a tantrum results in you staying longer you are being controlled by your child’s behaviour. It is the role of the parent to set the boundaries. If you return every time your child cries and stay longer, your child will use this as a strategy to avoid separation. The key to adjusting to school is consistency and routine. You, as the parent, have to be relaxed, confident and in control when you leave your child at school.

You need to be prepared for the first day at school. It will help if you practice separating from each other. Play peek-a-boo games with your child, leave the room and pop back in, every time you come back, tell them that you’ll always come back. Discuss going to school, explain what to expect and what will happen. Tell them how their hunger, thirst and bathroom needs will be met. Tell them why they need to go to school. Express that there is no choice, that you need to work and they need to go to school. Explain to them where you will be when they are at school. Do not instill fear in them, instead describe to your child how they will play and make friends at school. Visit the school before the first day, meet with the teacher and introduce your child. Spend a little time at the school, this will allow your child to become familiar with the new environment. Talk about their new teacher and friends at home and familiarize the child with their teacher’s name. If you show that you respect and trust the teacher to take care of your child, then your child will be trustful and respectful of the teacher. The teacher won’t be a stranger, but a confidant and a friend.

The first day needs to be relaxed, allow plenty of time to get to school and avoid a morning rush and panic. Your child will react to any tension. Do not make a fuss, be very matter of fact about the whole day. Pack a picture of yourself, or their favourite toy, that the child can show to the teacher and their classmates. It will be comforting to have something familiar. Arrive early at the school and set a time limit for yourself, only allow yourself that amount of time to stay with your child. Tell your child, "I will read one book with you, and then leave." Be firm, but loving. Tell them that you will be back. Use the class schedule to explain to your child when you will come back; "First, you will sing songs, then listen to a story and play some games. You will have a snack and draw a picture and then it will be home time!" This will help the child to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Promise that you will be back to pick them up, even pinky swear on it. Before you leave, make sure your child is comfortable. Make sure that they’re not hungry, thirsty or in need of the bathroom. If you leave before these needs are met, your child could express their fear by throwing a tantrum.

It’s important to remember to never threaten! Never use school, the teacher or leaving, as a threat, for example, “If you don’t stop crying, I will leave now!” Threatening leads fear. The last thing you want is to create a fear of any of these and it will make going to school even more difficult. Instead, be brief and affectionate. Do not sneak away. This will confuse the child and scare them. It will make the separation more difficult in the future.

After the first day, you need to praise your child for being so brave! Speak to them, use positive and direct remarks; “I saw you playing with your new friends, you play so nicely”, or, “You listened carefully to your teacher.” Ask the teacher to tell you something that your child did well, and use it, “Your teacher said that you colour so beautifully!” If you believe that you are good at something, you will want to do it again; your child will want to go to school!

Reflect on the day. Discuss school and ask lots of leading questions. If you ask your child, “What did you do today?” They may reply, “Nothing”. This is because there’s just too much for them to tell or process. Ask them leading questions, “Did you listen to a story?” “What was it about?” “Did you enjoy it?” “How did it make you feel?” Chat about their school, friends and teacher. By talking about it, you’ll show them how much fun they had.

If you are ever late in picking up your child, phone the school and ask the teacher to explain to your child that you will be a little late, but that you will be arriving soon. Never let your child think that they will be left at school.

The key to another successful day at school, is sticking to the routine. Your child may separate easily on the first day because it’s all very exciting and new. The second day may not be as thrilling. However, be consistent and follow the routine that you have set.

Adjusting to school develops your child’s coping abilities and develops their independence. These are valuable skills essential for strong cognitive and social development. Being firm, consistent and affectionate will help your child be independent and well-adjusted at school.

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