The first day of school is often met with a mix of excitement and anxiety for kids and parents alike. Separating from their parents weather it’s their first day at preschool or if they are going back to school after the holidays can easily leave even the most upbeat child (and parent) in tears.
So how to best say goodbye to our kids at school?
It’s only natural for children to have a hard time with big life transitions like starting school. In fact, anxiety around separation is a normal part of child development. I have found it wise to have realistic expectation towards major transitions like this one. Even if the drop-off is going pretty seamlessly at first it helps for parents to know that phases of clinginess are totally normal to be expected. Some kids seem to be doing just fine with the transition only to experience separation anxiety a few weeks into the school year.
In any case, the same principle always applies at drop off:
We need to say goodbye to our kids with confidence and calm.
The energy we bring into the situation will always set the scene for how confidently they will be able to separate from us.
Let’s look at it from their perspective for a moment:
If we as parents are tense, uncomfortable, unsure, we fell sorry for the child or are scared that the adjustment process is too traumatising for them or hurting them… it will be very hard for our kids to follow along because we are signalling to them that separating is in fact something to be scared of!
“Oh no, I can sense that my mom is actually not OK with all of this. She as a hard time saying goodbye to me and letting me go, she seems uncomfortable.
Ugh, I don’t want to let go of her – I guess this isn’t OK!
She’s not confident – I can’t be confident”
See, if we are not able to step into the role of the confident leader, to be the mature adult in the situation and set the tone for safety and security, it will be VERY difficult for our children to feel safe and secure separating from us.
But here is the thing; separating from our kids at school, or leaving them with a new caregiver when they cling to us is SO hard!
I remember crying outside my daughters preschool after saying goodbye to her for the first time, literally shaking on my way out the door as I heard her cry after me, bursting out in tears once I was out and could still hear her crying from inside the school!
I know countless parents have similar stories.
So the transition can be TOUCH alright.
And that’s exactly why we need to practice. WE parents, need to practice and prepare ourselves so we are better able to support our children in the best possible way as they make the separation.
How do we do that?
1. Take responsibility
Well first of all we need to take responsibility for and own the decision we have made to start our child in school. It’s so important for us to keep our perspective. Although the transition may not be seamless (it almost never is!) we need to still be confident in our decision and not translate our child’s reaction to this big change into all of it being a huge mistake and becoming unsure about the whole thing.
It might seem weird for some to do something like this,, but it REALLY works.
2. Prepare yourself
One thing that has helped me a lot in the past is to visualise before-hand various challenging situations or transitions with my children. I close my eyes and walk myself through the process step by step, essentially coaching myself every step of the way. I visualise the situation at hand, say the drop-off at school, and I practice handling that situation in a graceful way. I visualise how I will enter the situation, what emotions and energy I will carry in my body, I choose what kind of thoughts will be running through my mind (am I in a positive mindset or a negative mindset?), and then of course I visualise what I will say and do.
It might seem weird for some to do something like this,, but it REALLY, really, (really!) works.
3. Prepare your child
The third and last thing I wanted to mention is the importance of preparing your child!
It’s important to discuss with our kids not only the fun exciting parts about school and how fun it will be but also to be honest and open about the fact that it might be a bit hard to say goodbye to mommy or daddy. That they might not always want to go to school and sometimes they might just want to stay home and that it is normal to have mixed emotions about new things.
Normalising negative emotions in this way helps tremendously in the process because it helps our children make sense of what they are going through and feeling and that will help them go through the transition in the most healthy way.
Allowing expression of whatever strong feelings they might have about the transition is vital. We normalise negative emotions by telling them it’s normal to not always want to go to school. And then we normalise the expression of these negative emotions, the tension and the big feelings when we hold space for the big after-school meltdown, the bedtime testing mode or any other tricky or regressed behaviour that might come up. It.is.normal. It is all part of the process. This is how their unease comes out, this is our children’s way to let out tension and get back to safety and balance.
So try not to worry too much if your child might seem “unlike themselves”, if they are pushing back more than usual, getting into more fights with their sibling or you, Please don’t freak out if your preschooler suddenly fails to make it to the bathroom on time even if they have been out of diapers for some time. It is so normal when our children are challenged by a new developmental task, that they lose some ground in an area recently mastered.
What about the actual goodbye?
When it comes to preparing for the actual separation, the goodbye at the door, we want to talk them through it in as much detail as we can. Step by step, so that they‘ll know what to expect. That is what helps children settle into new experiences.
Its so important that we always try to project deep trust and confidence in our children.
To tell them that you will be there for them to guide them and hear them and support them, always projecting that deep trust and confidence in them. The powerful belief that you have already been coaching within you that point;) (remember the visualisation!); that they will get through this, that you truly have no doubt that they can do this, to trust that your child can indeed handle the big emotions that might come up, knowing that you will always be there to pick them up when you said you would, again, allowing them to meltdown in the car on the way back home if they need to let some of those big feelings out.
Our attitudes matters so much guys! We have to believe in them!
Our children are so sensitive, so aware, they pick up on aaaaall of it, really.
So let’s work on our own mindsets, prepare ourselves AND them of course. And step into the role of the calm, graceful, brave adult that is ready to separate with confidence and love.
From the heart, Kristín