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Separation anxiety: Five ways to adjust you and your child to school

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One of Varma's main tips is to not leave your child without saying goodbye. File photo: Associated Press

In the first of a series of guest articles for ABC7's Back to School Week, Kidville owner Anjali Varma has some tips on how to deal with separation anxiety for young children as they adjust to going to school.

Fall is fast approaching and many children will be attending school for the first time. At Kidville, we offer Kidville University, a preschool alternative program, which many parents select in order to transition their child into preschool and separate for the first time.

Here are a few tips that we have found to be effective in easing this separation process:

1. Have an open dialogue with your child.
Most children do better if they are not surprised by what is about to happen. Talk to your child about the fact that you will be leaving and what that will mean for them. Remind your child of your separation routine and reinforce that even though you will be separated, "mommy always comes back." Positive reinforcement goes a long way!

2. Establish a goodbye routine and stick with it.
Get creative in the routine that will distract, soothe, and prepare your child for the separation process. This routine could include playing their favorite song on the way to school or doing the same high five and hug right before you leave. Whatever routine you select, remain consistent, particularly for the first couple of weeks, including having the same parent or caregiver drop your child to school.

3. Don't leave without saying goodbye.
It is tempting to slip out while your child is distracted; however, this "quick fix" will only hinder the separation process. By sneaking out you are breaking your child's trust, which will most likely lead to them becoming more clingy and anxious the next time you separate. Instead, find an activity in the classroom that you know your child enjoys or bring their favorite toy or distraction from home. Advise the teacher to participate in this activity both before and immediately after you say goodbye to help distract your child.

4. Leave when you say you are going to leave and keep your goodbye short.
This may be difficult if your child is upset, but prolonging the goodbye will only make it more difficult when you do actually leave. If you re-enter the room after you have said you are going to leave, it gives your child incentive to cry harder the next time you separate. And, keep your goodbye short and sweet - dragging out the goodbye only makes it more difficult for you and your child.

5. Tell your child when you will return.
In Kidville University, we advise parents to remind their children that "mommy always comes back after gym." This gives the child something to look forward to and provides a signal that the end of school and return of mommy are near. Another effective strategy is to teach children how to read a clock. Looking at the clock and knowing that mommy comes back when the clock hands are on the 11 and the 6 often calms anxious children - and it is a great way to introduce the concept of time!

Anjali Varma Bio
Anjali Varma is the owner of Kidville, a children's enrichment facility that features classes, retail, haircuts, and birthday parties in downtown Bethesda. Anjali is the mom of two young boys, a contributor to Huffington Post Parents, and a local TV parenting expert. She has been featured on News Channel 8's "Let's Talk Live” and ABC7’s “Washington Business Report”. She holds an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business and a BBA from the University of Michigan.


More special Back to School stories

Monday First day separation anxiety
Tuesday Eating healthy on campus
Wednesday Staying active and childhood exercise
Thursday Recognizing and preventing bullying
Friday What makes a great teacher?

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