It's back-to-school and the biggest problem I face with my 4-year-olds is the fact that I always have at least one child who suffers from separation anxiety. Instead of this being a wonderul happy day for them, tears flow and you'd think we're at the doctor's office anticipating the dreaded shot!
Here are some tried and true tips that are sure-fire methods in keeping the awful Anxiety Monster away!
Prepare Your Parents:
- Have you ever heard the saying: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” That is extremely applicable for separation anxiety and your parents. Yes, parents and not your students. I’m a firm believer in training parents as much as children. A child doesn’t come with an instruction manual and some parents are just better at easing into the job than others, just as some teachers get the hang of things right out of the gate.
- If you give them a bulleted check list in your “Welcome to school” summer letter, chances are you might have a few less criers, or that the ones who do go into meltdown mode will at least have the equipment needed to settle down after mommy or daddy leave. Click on the link for a check list.
- You can also read my article “Separation Anxiety and What Every Parent Should Know To Prepare For the First Day Of School” and give them the link to read it.
Dispel The Fear Of The Unknown
- Most schools have an Open House so that your students have a chance to meet you and see their room BEFORE the start of school. If your Open House is after school starts, see if you can get permission to have a “Meet You Teacher” night before the start of school. Have this the day before school starts. This will get rid of their biggest fear: “the fear of the unknown.”
- Give students something to look forward to in your summer letter. I tell mine that we will be studying dinosaurs. That is a hot topic for my little ones. I also let them know that after we finish a fun activity they will get to choose a little dinosaur to take home.
- At Open House I make sure that they get to see all the cool toys and our beautiful playground. These are also wonderful things that get them excited to want to come back and do.
- I make sure to mention that they will make lots of new friends and encourage parents to introduce children while at Open House. I often initiate introductions. “Hi Carter. Have you met Jason? He’s in our class too, and likes soccer just like you. “Then I walk away and hope parents do the rest…
- So that there is a comforting “school-home” connection, I include a coloring “about me” dinosaur in my students’ “Welcome Packet” that parents pick up at Open House. Because they’ve had some quality time with family filling this out when they share it with the class, it’s not only a great “ice breaker”, but a reminder that their family loves them and did this activity at home with them because school is important. If someone didn’t come to Open House, or forgot to bring their dino, I let them know they can share their dinosaur on the next day of school.
- You can also have that “school-home” connection by asking families to bring a family photo with them to Open Houseon a collage them on a wall. Then when you have meltdown moments you can take a child and show them the “We LOVE you!” wall. Have colorful paper hearts available for parents to write the words “We love you _______.” on, and then attach those next to the photo so they can see their name on the wall as well.
- Hopefully parents will have read your note and be prepared. YOU be prepared that they have not, and that you will be dealing with two people in meltdown mode. The parent and the child. Be caring; this is a mom who is a bit tearful about leaving her child for the first time. She worries that she’ll be crying all day. She’s also embarrassed that things are out of control. Use reassuring words that everything will be fine. That all of this is normal, that every child reacts differently, and that we will all have a great day. Keep your smile on your face, your voice calm and convincing.
- Now is the time to try and distract the child. I have a pin wheel and a bottle of bubbles. I ask the child which one they would like to blow on. The bubbles or the pin wheel. You do not ask a crying child yes or no questions. The answer will always be no. It’s hard to blow and cry. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t so always have plan B.
- Just in case my parents didn’t send a token to school with their child, I have a basket of “lovies” that a child can choose from to “cling” to ‘til the “drama trauma” is over. There’s nothing like a soft plush animal to sooth feelings. I let them know before hand that the lovies have to go back in the basket when the timer rings because it is their nap time. This way I don’t have to have them go into meltdown mode all over again, trying to get them unclung from something else in order to have them be able to participate in activities and do some work. They can also have the option to keep the lovie on their lap or table top if they promise to do some work, if this option will get them to quiet down. I ask the crying child which one they’d like to hold.
- If they still are crying I simply take them by the hand and say. “I need a special helper today, and I pick you!” Then I lead them away. I always make sure that mom has already said good-bye and given them a kiss and hug etc. then I take the rest of my children into the room so mom is out of sight and I can get things rolling.
- This works if I only have one or two children crying. Amazingly, children do quiet down within 5 minutes of parents leaving.
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