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For Parents

How to Deal with Separation Anxiety When Your Child Starts School

Here are our top tips for coping with separation anxiety as your child starts the next stage of their learning journey; school. 

child and parent holding hands outside school

Will my child make friends? Will my child settle into their new environment? What if my child isn’t ready? These are all valid questions you may ask yourself as your child takes the next step of their learning journey; starting school.  

The first day of school is a huge transition for children, but this time is also a massive adjustment for parents too. So, it’s no wonder that a survey by Kiddie Academy found that 63% of mums worry about their child starting school.  

In order to offer a little peace of mind, we’ve put together some helpful tips to see you through this poignant transition.  

What is separation anxiety?

One of the main concerns you may have about your child starting school is separation anxiety, particularly if your child hasn’t been to nursery or away from you for a long period of time. Separation anxiety can happen when a child experiences distress when separated from their parents, but this is also something parents can experience when they’re away from their child too.

Starting school is quite often the first time this kind of separation occurs, which is why it’s very common for these worrying feelings to arise around this time.  

So, how do you know if you’re experiencing separation anxiety? Well, there are lots of emotions that can come up. Here are some of the common ones that parents can experience:  

  • Feeling guilty about taking time for yourself or going to work  
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of attention your child needs from you  
  • Feeling worried when you’re away from your child for a long period of time 
parent lying down holding baby

It may also be comforting to remember that if you feel anxious about being separated from your child, it’s actually a good sign that you have developed healthy attachments to one another. If you begin to feel stressed when away from your child, it could be helpful to remind yourself that there are a variety of benefits separation can have for your child.

Here are just a few to bear in mind to help you look on the positive side:  

Benefits of separation

  • Separation gives your child opportunities to think independently and develop confidence in making their own decisions, which filters into the development of other crucial independence skills  
  • When your child is away from you, this is a great time for them to build new friendships with other children by themselves, which in turn, promotes communication and social skills 
  • Your child will develop coping methods should they be feeling uneasy about you leaving, which supports healthy self-regulation  

Eventually, your child will learn that you always return after you leave. In time, this will be comforting enough for them, and the time you’re apart will become much easier.  

Tips for parents 

Separation anxiety can often be triggered by the fear of the unknown or a new experience, which is why it’s very common to feel this way during a huge change like your child starting school.  

Whilst you may be excited about your child’s new adventure, it’s completely normal for feelings of anxiety to also arise and to feel a mixture of emotions. Here are some suggestions for easing the worries you may have.  

Get to know your child’s teacher

teacher talking to child and parent in classroom

It can feel scary handing your child over to what feels like a total stranger but getting to know their teacher can be a really useful way of alleviating any concerns you have around starting school. You will hopefully have gotten to know your child’s teacher well before they start school but making time to have chats with them during drop-off or collection times and getting to know them a little better can be a massive reassurance for you.

Voice your concerns

We all know the saying that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved,’ and talking about your worries to other parents in the same situation as you can be helpful. They will sympathize with what you’re going through, and they can offer you reassurance and support.  

It may be helpful to look for local Facebook groups for mums, local cafes or school groups, where there’s a community of people you can share your worries and create new friendships and a support network for your parenting journey. 

parent and child smiling

Before the lead up to starting school, it can be a good idea to practice being apart from your child. Introduce them to new people and places slowly and gradually. If you plan to leave your child with a relative or caregiver, ask them to join you in advance whilst you’re still present, as this will give your child a chance to familiarise themselves with the new routine and the person who’ll be caring for them.

By gradually building up time apart, it won’t be such a shock for your child when they’re left on their own for the whole day, as they will have already developed coping methods for when you’re not present.

Be consistent 

Creating a goodbye routine with your child will help them feel positive as you wave them goodbye before school, but this can also be beneficial to you as well. A goodbye routine can include anything from a special hug, a phrase you say to each other or an action. This loving and firm goodbye will reassure your child that you’ll be back and put you both in a happy headspace for the rest of the day.  

It’s important to remember that you must be consistent with this goodbye. One of the most confusing and stressful things you can do during a goodbye is to come back again. 

You can help support your child’s readiness to go to school by introducing role play games around school, reading books about school, or simply talking about what they can expect when they go to school. This can help prepare them mentally and make them feel more relaxed ahead of this transition. When your child feels relaxed, it’ll also put your mind at ease.  

Remember, it’s only temporary

It can be comforting to remember that this phase is only temporary and will pass in what will feel like no time at all. Once you’ve got into the swing of school life — you’ll see many of the anxieties melting away for both you and your child!  

A young girl with a backpack, looking up at her mother while holding hands near a fence, ready to go to school.

Finally, the most important thing to remember is to take it easy on yourself. Your child starting school is a massive adjustment for the whole family, especially if it’s the first time they have spent a long period of the day away from you.

It’s important to focus on all the positives that will come from your child starting school, such as them developing lifelong friendships, learning lots of new skills and slowly growing their independence. 

At Fennies, our internal education team and early years educators create learning opportunities and well-being activities that help prepare children for school from their very first day at nursery. We do this through our thorough settling in process on their first day at nursery to the self-regulation activities for under 2s. All the way through the ages to our robust school readiness programme for preschoolers working alongside local schools.  

We recognise that each child’s development is unique, and our school readiness programme and settling-in approach is tailored specifically to meet each child’s individual needs.  

Olivia Jones

Olivia Jones

Content Writer

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