First Day of School Blues: Tips for Dealing with Your Preschooler’s Separation Anxiety


By: Rose Gonzaga-Tacang

Sending your toddler off to his first day of school is an exciting achievement waiting to be unlocked, but for some, it can be a stressful experience full of teary-goodbyes and cling-to-your limbs moments.

The idea of being away from home and staying in a new environment full of strangers even for just a few hours can be challenging and may cause fear and anxiety for children and even for us, parents. If you have a toddler who is set to begin his journey into formal education in the coming days or weeks, then you might find these tips helpful in overcoming separation anxiety and making that transition to preschool less stressful for both you and your child.

What You Can Do Before the Big Day Arrives

Shop for school stuff together: Bring your child with you when buying school supplies. Since you will be tagging your toddler along, you might want to start shopping early to avoid the mad rush of fellow parents wanting to buy school supplies at a bargain price. What’s more important is engaging your child and letting him choose which bag, notebook or pencil case he wants – this can help in slowly building up the excitement in going to school.

Label everything: Make sure you have your child’s school stuff properly labeled so your child and his teacher will easily know which items are his. If your child has allergies, you can also make a card with a list of those allergies and place it where it can easily be seen by the teacher and school staff so they will be informed on how to properly care for your child.

Play and practice makes perfect: Aside from reading books about going to school, you can prepare your child by “playing school” at home. You can role-play and take turns being the teacher, parent or student. This is also a great way to introduce your child to common routines such as saying goodbye, singing nursery rhymes, reading stories, eating snacks, and taking a nap so that they will know what to expect once they attend a real class.

Attend a trial class: If you feel role-playing at home isn’t enough, then you can try attending a trial class. Some schools allow sit-ins and also offer trial and/or summer classes to help prepare children and let them adjust to the preschool environment and routines before formal classes begin.

Visit your preschool often: Schools are open even during the summer break so you can always arrange for a tour or visit the school grounds with your preschooler and let him get to know his teachers and the school staff. This will allow him to grow more familiar and at ease in the new environment.

Establish a bedtime routine: The days leading up to the first day of school can be full of tension and uneasiness. It is important for you and your child to get a good night’s sleep especially if his classes are scheduled in the morning so it means that you have to set bedtime earlier than what you have been used to. Doing this a few weeks before school starts will help your child adjust his body clock and allow him to wake up refreshed and well-rested.

Getting Ready on the First Day of School

Start early: Going to bed early means waking up early. This way, you will have more time to get ready for school and avoid rushing through your morning preparation. You can also opt to arrive at school at least 30 minutes before the bell rings so your child can settle in the classroom, have more time with his teacher, and feel more comfortable with his classmates.

Keep your composure: Being separated from your little one brings in a mixture of emotions – from excitement and pride to anxiety and sadness. Keep in mind that when your child sees you getting stressed or agitated, he could easily adapt those emotions and can make leaving him in the classroom more difficult. So even if it feels like a hundred needles piercing through your gut, you just have to reel in your emotions. Smile confidently, keep a positive tone and assure your child that he will be okay and that you will be back to pick him up.

Stay for a while and say a quick, sweet goodbye: Most schools allow parents to stay in the classroom during the first week. Maximize this opportunity especially if your child is one of those students who are hesitant to see their parents go. When it is your cue to leave, give your child a hug and say your good-byes. Don’t hesitate or look sad as it may trigger your child into feeling that he doesn’t want to be left behind.

Trust the teacher: Being separated from their parents can be more difficult for some children. If your child won’t stop crying, try singing to him his favorite song, give him hugs and kisses, tell him you love him, and encourage him that he will do just fine. If your child is still crying even after you have said goodbye to each other, ask for his teacher’s help so he can have another adult to turn to for support when you leave. You just have to muster up the courage to step out of the classroom and let the teacher handle the situation. Walking away doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent – you’re just letting your child and his teacher work it out together.

Always remember that it’s normal for some kids to feel sad, uneasy or even have a meltdown when it’s time for you to leave them in the classroom. And that no matter how much we prepare our kids for his first day of school, there’s no way we can exactly predict how they will react when the real thing comes. All we can do is help support him during this transition, keep communication lines open and be receptive to non-verbal cues. Separation anxiety may be tougher to deal with for some families, but it definitely is possible to overcome.

Rose Gonzaga-Tacang is a loving mom and wife to two of the most rowdy and hot-headed but most precious males in her life – her son, Luke and her husband, Chris. She has been in the HR profession for more than 10 years and is fondly called as Mommy T by her colleagues. She loves to read and watch movies and is a closet-gamer.


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