First days of school - anxiety at drop off time.
Hi! Since school is starting, I want to share with you some extra thoughts about the first weeks' drop off time and how to make this transition easier for you and your child, no matter how old they are.
First and foremost, remember that to let go, one needs to feel safe enough. Can you imagine yourself, being left alone in the middle of the jungle? ALONE. No maps, no guide, nothing. Just you and the immensity of the jungle. Feeling it? Yep, not nice.
It is scary to let go of a parent and our home (our safe places) and enter the unknown (school/classroom). As scary as being left by your tour guide in the middle of the jungle. No wonder our children try any and all strategies at hand to not let go of us.
To help our children feel safe and ready to let go of us as the new school year starts, here are some tips for you to try.
Touring the educational setting before the first day of school can be a great way to start instilling a sense of security in our children. Making the unknown, a bit known and safe. Knowing how a place looks like (peaking through the window of the classrooms, locating the restroom, the lunch area, the office), makes it that there's one less thing to worry about on that first day. It makes some part of the upcoming unexpected experience have an expected part. One part the child doesn't need to worry about. One safe thing in the world of the unknown and possibly unsafe.
If possible, have your child meet with other students from their classroom before school starts. Having at least one familiar face on the first day of school really makes a difference in developing a sense of safety. Knowing someone at the new place helps the child feel that they are not alone, that there is someone else there, in this, with them. It transforms the feeling of "me - alone" into a feeling of "this other kid and I". They are now not alone anymore and therefore can relax a bit and start to let go.
Believe that your child can. When we trust that our kid will be successful at something, it shows. When it shows, they see it and it feeds their self esteem, helps them co-regulate and helps them believe that they can do this. In the same way that it shows when we believe they can, it shows when we doubt if they can... So believe they can, and remind your child how successful they were the last time they started something new (think of any other activity your child has done in the past). Think together about the skills your child used to succeed that time, and show your child how they not only still have those skills, but since they've used them in the past, they are now even stronger, sharper and "professional". "You are an expert in starting new things. You've got this."
Sometimes a child needs a comforting object. Think of something tiny that can be in their pocket. Maybe a squishy ball?
If your child is vocal about their beginning of the year butterflies, normalizing them really helps. "You know, when I was your age, every time I would start a new school year, I would feel those butterflies too. Even today, when I start anything new, I do get those butterflies, and what's awesome about it is that after a few hours, they disappear. It happens to everyone." When our kids hear that we also feel anxious about starting something new, it helps them to start to relax. "Oh, this happens to my parent too.... Oh... Interesting... I guess I'm normal and this feeling is normal."
Reminding the child that this separation is temporary also plays a big role at drop off time. Drop off can be interpreted as abandonment and therefore create lots of resistance. We need to help our child come back to the present reality and remind them that I am coming back. "I'll go to work, I'll pick you up at 5pm and we'll go home to be together." When a person knows what to expect and knows that an uncomfortable situation will end, they refuse the transition less.
If your child is hesitant about going to school, find together one thing they look forward to at school. Maybe it's seeing an old friend, maybe PE time, maybe discovering what the new teacher/s looks like, what kind of games will the other kids play during recess time, or what kind of clubs there are. Finding one little thing your child is curious about will encourage the child to stay and try.
Remember that the drop off process should be short (or you'd be prolonging the separation pain), full of empathy, compassion and most of all, full of empowerment. "I love you, I know this is uncomfortable, and I also know you can do this. You've got this! I'll pick you up at 3pm. Love you."
These are some tools to help your family start the new school year and have a smoother drop off time. If you have questions or your family's needs don't exactly fit with these strategies, just let me know. We can always have a deeper conversation and find out what works for you.
Wishing all a fruitful, healthy school year!