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3 min

Back to School Separation Anxiety

by Dr. Jacque Bogdanov, licensed psychologist and a certified PCIT therapist

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Heading back to school after a break can be overwhelming for many kids. Stepping away from the comfort of home and family, and stepping into a new environment with new people and new expectations, is a huge adjustment. Here are some ideas for helping kids manage the separation anxiety that comes with transitioning back to school.

Have a little vacation all year round. Consider what your family values most about time off, and then figure out how to do some of those things more often. Maybe every weekend you’ll cook a new recipe. Maybe you’ll start a weekly parent-child date night. Talk with your child and family about what makes holidays and vacations special, and brainstorm ways to build those things into your regular school-year routine. Everyone will get through that transition slump more easily, and you’ll have something to look forward to.

Have a little school all year round. Keeping some of the school-year structure, even during summer vacation and school breaks, can help maintain a feeling of routine for kids. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing math problems all summer. Keep bedtimes and wake-ups within an hour of the regular time. Eat meals at about the same time as on school days. Have some quiet time for practicing a hobby or new skill, similar to time spent on homework.

Plan daily one-on-one time. Let your child choose something to play or do together. Avoid distractions like phones, and occupy siblings with something else. Give your child your full attention and let them be the guide during the activity.

Talk about the anxiety. Prepare your child for the change, and give them a chance to express their feelings about it. Saying things like, “It sounds like you’re nervous to go back to school. That makes sense since school feels different than home,” normalizes the emotions, and gives kids a chance to express their worries. This then leads to opportunities to help them prepare, and talk through how to manage things that feel difficult or overwhelming.

Be a calm and grounding presence. When it’s time for the good-bye, keep your tone, words, and body language calm and confident. Try giving your child something to remind them of you. Avoid statements of logic or reasoning. When kids are worked up, they can’t hear that anyway. Use your words to describe the situation and point out your child’s bravery. Try saying, “we are almost to school. I see you looking at your teacher at the door. Thank you for letting me help you out of the car.”

Separation anxiety is a powerful emotion. Finding that balance between comforting and reassuring your child while also preparing them to handle the transition more independently is worth the effort. Learn More at the Child Behavior Clinic.

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