Separation Anxiety: Guidelines to Say Goodbye to Clingy Kids?

Separation anxiety for back to school?

Separation anxiety for back to school?

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I’m sure you hear a lot about separation anxiety around back to school time. It’s only July and I’m already dreading “back to school” because my child will be going to kindergarten.  With my first child, we had quite a time with getting him comfortable enough to go into his classroom and leave my side for a lot of the school year.  He’s what you call a “clingy kid.” Well, I wound up staying for way longer than I should. I’m sure I made some mistakes and I know this is classic separation anxiety.  Can you give me a quick was to say good-bye that we  can follow so we don’t make the same mistakes twice?

–Laura, Mom of Max and Julia, New Brunswick NJ

Thanks for your question, Laura!

I actually spoke about this with Parents Magazine in the July 2008 issue.  Separation anxiety is seen in many children to varying degrees.  It can come in the form of crying, whining, clinging, following, silence, withdrawal, or hiding behind a parent.

First, remember, that your daughter is not your son.  She may respond completely differently than you other child did in the same circumstance.  In this case, it’s important not to generalize and “pre-label” your daughter!

Second, there are some things you can do before school that can ease the transition.  Typically the problem of separation anxiety on the first days of school are two-fold—your child is uncomfortable being separated by you but she is also uncomfortable about what’s unfamiliar to her as well.

You can do something about that. Allow her to see her classroom, meet the teacher, and connect with some classmates before the first day of school.  Play in the school playground, walk the halls, and meet the principal.  Essentially, make the unfamiliar, familiar.  I talk more about these kinds of tips in my interview with www.education.com. I will notify our powerful parents when the articles come out.  In addition, I will be doing some tele-seminars on easing the transition back to school which I will let you know about shortly.

In addition, September’s Powerful Word of the month is courage– so get a jump on talking about courage in your household! Your Powerful Words school will help support these messages of courage as the instructors go through September’s Powerful Words curriculum.

Finally, if you are looking for a way to say good-bye without all the drama, please follow my ABCDE Goodbye Plan.  It’s simple and easy to remember—even though it’s sometimes hard to do!

Dr. Robyn Silverman’s ABCDE Goodbye to Separation Anxiety Plan:

(1) Be Affectionate—give a hug and a kiss, tell him how much you love him/her

(2) Be Brief– don’t linger because that will increase signs of separation anxiety

(3) Be Clear that you will be back and if you can, you can even tell them when (after the last school bell, when the clock says 3pm)

(4) Be Directive– “Go show your teacher what you brought from home!” “There’s your new friend, Emma—go say hello!” This gives your child something specific to do, gets her mind off the impending separation, and connects her with someone else in the room.

(5) And perhaps most importantly, EXIT. This doesn’t mean sneak out. You’ve said your goodbyes—wave- smile—and leave. Prolonging the inevitable makes the process harder for everyone.

In the mean time, you still have much of the summer to enjoy.  Talk positively about school and all the great things she will be able to do there.  And for your own sanity, talk positively to yourself—we all know the separation can be as hard on the parents as it is on the kids!

Best regards,

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

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4 Responses

  1. Boy do I remember this phase…The guilt of ‘peeling her off’ of me in pre-school part-time days using the ABCDE plan… (gee, I didn’t know that’s what it was, but that pretty much captures it in a nutshell, great acronym, Dr. Robyn!)

    Been scarce here lately, will ping you via phone soon and explain all…Hope the family’s enjoying summer fun! (p.s. I finally succumbed to Twitter, as an ‘autopost’ feed, looked for you to ‘follow’ but can’t find ya?!)

  2. Hi Amy!

    How nice to hear from you. I’ve joined Twitter as well– and couldn’t find you! Here I am…

    http://twitter.com/drrobyn

    Talk to you soon!

  3. Great tips! I definitely agree with being brief. Lingering always makes it 10 times worse. I had a student one year who was new to the school and when his mother walked him to my classroom he proceeded to throw himself on the hallway floor crying and yelling to his mother that he wanted to go back to his old school . Finally after realizing that his mother being there was making it worse I told his mother that she should go and that he’d be fine. As hard as I know it was for her…she did. Within 5 minutes he had calmed down and was fine. I did call his mother at break time to tell her that he was okay and he ended up having a great first day. This may not work in every case but for this little boy the more his mother stayed the more upset he became.

  4. I’m @ShapingYouth on Twitter; just getting started and trying not to drown in ‘tmi’ so pretty much limiting my ‘tweets’ to autoposts…Here’s the full URL: http://twitter.com/ShapingYouth

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