Dealing with Separation Stress and Anxiety in the Classroom

All teachers know too well the tears and loud sobs as a kid begins pre-school, kindergarten or the infant toddler community. However did you know that even older kids feel some stress and anxiety about visiting a new school, or leaving for the first over night stay away from home? As an elementary teacher I was extremely shocked when some of my sixth graders shed tears and appeared extremely distressed as they said their goodbyes to their parents prior to boarding the bus to go to Science school, which included a staying away from home for 3 nights! Any modification of routine, particularly one that takes the kid far from familiar environments is extremely overwhelming, no matter the child’s age. What I pertained to recognize after my long tenure at Arborland Montessori preschool is that feeling some separation nervousness is normal, and it is a part of the child’s growth. It is a phase the kid has to pass through, a part of becoming a well adjusted independent member of society. It is a phase the kid will go through and readjust, and you will be surprised at how quickly that takes place!

Now that I, as your kid’s teacher, have ensured you, it does not make it much easier to leave with your kid protesting and sobbing. In some cases I think it is much easier for the kid than the parents. You are leaving your kid with professionals who know how to comfort, sidetrack, and assist your kid to relax. However what about you, who will assist you? You go off to work with guilty, thinking what an awful parent you are, leaving your kid when he/she needs you most. Dear parents, believe me, you are being the very best parents in the world, you have just done a wonderful thing for your treasured kid, starting him/her on the path of independence.

To assist you, the parents, handle this worry, let us examine why the kid protests so vociferously, making you feel miserable and guilty. Recall when your child was little, and you left the room the sobbing would begin. This is due to the fact that your child only knows your immediate family, and has actually not yet learned the meaning of time. The child feels if a familiar face is missing, it’s gone permanently. Have you played peek-a-boo with a small child? When you at the beginning hide your face, or go behind a door, the immediate response is worry and nervousness. Then when you pop out, there is relief which leads to gales of giggles and the child wants you to do it again and again. Why is that? I think the child is checking to see that you will magically come back each time. In time the kid begins to accept the truth that even if he can not see you, you are still there and will return. What is taking place here is a normal trusting bond being developed in between you and your kid.

When the kid first goes to school, a similar new healthy bond will be formed. Now the kid is getting in an entire new unfamiliar location, and the insecurities will surface once again. The kid needs to know you are not deserting him, and you will return. Here are portals which you can assist yourself and your kid with this period.

1. Prepare your kid by leaving him for short durations, perhaps with a sitter or a relative, and constantly return within a given period. After a while it will seem like playing peek-a-boo, “oh yes, mommy left, except she returned quickly”.

2. When leaving your kid at school, remain calm; do not project your worry on your kid. Do not work out with your kid, “Okay, just this once I will stay with you a little longer”. If you do that, the kid will be louder the next day as he has actually found out that this works. Offer him a fast kiss/hug goodbye, and leave instantly. Do the same thing every day, no matter how loud the objection.

3. Withstand the urge to stick around in the background, hide behind a pillar or a tree just to see how the kid is coping. Believe me your kid is with skilled professionals, and if you might only see how quickly the sobbing stops, you would be shocked. Naturally some kids take longer than others to settle down, and the school has plans in place to assist these kids. When I was new at Arborland there was one kid who took longer than typical to settle down, and it took me some time to recognize that instead of driving off, the mom was sitting in the parking lot, the kid might not see his mom except he might see the car! As long as the kid knew his mom might hear the cry he continued at full volume. Please assist yourself and your kid and leave quickly.

4. Always tell the kid who will pick him up at a given time, for example: after lunch or after nap time, and constantly show up on time. By doing this the kid will start to recognize he can rely on you, and the self-confidence will expand.

5. Make sure the kid is not starving or exhausted in the early mornings, as this will make him cranky. The kid requires a good night’s rest and a healthy morning meal prior to coming to school.

6. As moms and dads, it’s essential to establish a trust with the school and your kid’s teacher. Make arrangements with the teacher to call within a given period to check on how well the kid has actually settled, or request the teacher to call you.

In conclusion I would like to guarantee you that sobbing and being unwilling to part from you on the first couple of days of school is a really normal process in the child’s advancement, and it is a transient, short-term phase. In the unlikely occasion that this phase continues on to the elementary level, medical assistance would be needed, and there could be various other underlying reasons which would have to be looked at. In all my years of teaching I have never experienced a case where the kid has actually not settled in to the school routine in a matter of weeks.