Separation for the first time at school can be a spectacular, and sometimes challenging, experience for grown-ups and children alike. I find that having a plan helps immensely. You can talk to both your child and his or her teacher about “the plan” and then follow through. Try these tips:
1. Have Your Child Walk In To The Building and Classroom– A child who walks independently into a school or day care building is starting off with a sense that they can do this and that you believe this will be a great experience. Isn’t that the message you want to send your child? When we hold children in these situations we may subconsciously squeeze them a little tighter and convey some of our own trepidations about what’s to come. Truth be told, your child may not want to walk in themselves every day, but establishing this as part of your morning routine sends a positive message about your child’s competence and your belief in him or her.
2. Establish A Goodbye Routine– Whether it’s a hug and a high-five or a wave through the window, set up a routine that you do consistently when you leave your child. You can use your goodbye routine at home with caregivers, when leaving your child with your partner, and especially with drop-off situations at school and day care. The predictability of the routine will help your child feel safer and more comfortable with the idea of separation.
3. Think About the Transfer of Responsibility– One of the major goals of separation, in addition to fostering your child’s sense of self, is to convey a transfer of responsibility to the teacher or caregiver. In this way you tell your child, that the caregiver or teacher can help them, soothe them, change their diaper, etc. They may not do it exactly like Mom or Dad, but you feel comfortable with this environment and this person, and you feel good about them being a part of your child’s life. If your child comes over to you during separation, or seems hesitant, give a reassuring kiss or hug and encourage them to ask their teacher for help or to see what their caregiver is working on.
4.Give Your Child A Concrete “Time” When You’ll Be Back– I’m not suggesting you have your young child live by the clock, but ask the teacher what the last activity of the day will be. Generally, the daily schedule at the beginning of the year will remain pretty constant so that children feel secure and can learn the routine. If you know that the last thing your child will do each day is have a Goodbye Circle, you can let them know you’ll be back after it’s over. This gives your child another concrete way to feel safe. Remind them who will be there to pick them up and that that person will be there after ____.
5. Make A Big Deal About Your Reunion– We spend so much time thinking about how to say goodbye, that we often forget the importance of reuniting. Tell your child “I’m back. I said I’d be back after ____ and I’m here. I always come back.” Pointing out for your child that you came back for them when you said you would and giving them a big hug or high five, closes the circle of this separation and reinforces their positive experience and the safety they can feel when you drop them off.