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Separation Anxiety Part 1: For Parents

Posted on | Mike Bullard

A boy’s first day of school is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. In the 20 steps from mommy’s and daddy’s car into the building, he will find himself within four walls where the rules, the surroundings, and the people are different from what he has known for his entire life.

Starting school opens your son to new aspects of life: development of critical thinking skills, flourishing of creative concepts, and learning how to rely on himself for things as simple as finding his sense of direction (or asking for directions—if you’ve ever set foot in PDS you’re familiar with its labyrinthine hallways). With guidance, the confidence that he finds in those first days will go a long way toward his development from a boy to a man. There is no underestimating how important these first days are to the rest of his educational development.

On the parents’ side, however, it can be more complicated. No matter how well parents are mentally prepared, separation anxiety is often still present, even the night before the first day. Pre-emptive measures go a long way toward helping parents prepare for their son’s adjustment to starting school for the first time. Here are some of our top tips to overcoming separation anxiety on your son’s first day of school.


Putting Faces to Names

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, part of parents’ separation anxiety comes from a lack of knowledge regarding where their son will be, what he will be doing the whole day, who he will be with, and how secure his surroundings will be. In other words, the anxiety comes from the parents’ loss of control over their child’s immediate environment.

Schools often have orientations to help parents get to know the school, the administration and staff, their programs, and the surroundings. However, if you require another walk through the school to ease your anxiety, take it. Visualization of your son’s surroundings will help ease your concern. Taking home a map of the school or spending some time on the school’s website might go a long way toward achieving a calm mental demeanor and suppress anxiety levels.

Fill in the Blanks

Often, stay-at-home parents experience separation anxiety just by imagining the home empty of all the normal household duties connected to their son. Without preparing his lunch, reminding him to make his bed, or reading to him in the afternoon, the day might feel empty and full of blank periods of time.

To pre-empt the feeling of loneliness that often comes with separation anxiety, make a list of things to fill up the day until it is time to pick up your son from school. Taking time for leisure-writing, joining exercise classes, or getting involved with your son’s new school through PTA are some great ways to distract you from the empty time slots ahead of you. Planning for these new activities will also give you a mental break from preparing for your son’s first day of school.

Is it right for parents to have a good time while their children are in school?

Unfortunately, this is where undue guilt might come in. However, for their son’s sake, mothers and fathers should be as cheerful when they pick him up as when they dropped him off in the morning. This means that finding a way to relax, recharge, and avoid separation anxiety on that first day is a must.

Put Your Game Face On

Even before the first day of school, if you are struggling with separation anxiety, it is important that your son doesn’t catch on to his parents’ state of mind. Separation anxiety can be contagious, and the last thing a parent wants is for his or her son to begin fearing the idea of going to school on his first day. So when you talk to him about school, be positive and encouraging. If he starts to talk about what he’s excited for, like meeting new friends or trying new sports, listen and encourage that mindset. Alternatively, if he voices concerns, comfort him and shift the conversation into one that makes him less anxious.

If he doesn’t initiate conversations about starting school, it might be that he hasn’t brought it up because he is afraid, so take the opportunity to be encouraging. Tell him all the new and exciting things that he will be doing and learning in school. This may greatly lend to his enjoyment of school as a whole later on, and it will comfort you to know that he is happy and having fun.

Cut Out the Chaos

Have you gotten all the required school supplies for the first day of school? Have you developed a dropoff and pick up routine? Have you prepared for that special first-day-of-school picture?

A harried morning is a perfect storm for those already struggling with separation anxiety. Cut out as much chaos as possible by running through scenarios that might cause the first day to be an emotional roller coaster.

If you have a clear checklist of what he should bring to the school, and on the day itself you quickly and efficiently make sure that he has everything he needs, it will reassure him that life is moving in a normal direction and going to school is fun! Developing a successful routine will help reduce both your and his fears.

Cheer Him On

On the day itself, nothing is more reassuring to your son than a calm assertion that you will see him again soon. Your confidence will give him assurance, and he can enter the school ready to face the new challenges ahead. Seeing him bounce out of the car, all smiles, is a great way to melt any lingering worry.

At the end of the day, the best reward will be seeing him get into the car, excited to tell you all about what he did that day. At that point, you’ll realize that all the separation anxiety was completely unwarranted.

Now that your separation anxiety is resolved, check out our article on dealing with separation anxiety for kids. From how to discuss it, to the best way to encourage your son, you won’t want to miss the information in the second part of this article.



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