How to reduce separation anxiety in Prep

Every child responds differently to being separated from their parent, and this is always apparent during the first few days of Prep. Tears, tantrums and clinginess are all common emotional reactions, but they can cause distress and ongoing issues if not well managed. Here are some tips to reduce separation anxiety for a positive start to Prep.

Preparation is key

The more comfortable and familiar your child feels about school life, the more relaxed and less anxious they will be on their first day of Prep. There are many ways you can help them understand what to expect:
  • Attend all Prep Orientation and ‘Meet the Teacher’ events run by your child’s new school.
  • Some schools have playgroups that meet on the school campus. These provide an excellent opportunity for your child to become familiar with the school surroundings.
  • Organise play dates with other kids starting school at the same time as your child.
  • Get your child used to spending time away from you. This could be time spent with grandparents or attending a sporting activity. It’s important that they practise saying goodbye to you and have positive experiences away from you.
  • Spend time playing ‘school’ together (this can be a fascinating insight into what your child is expecting). Read books to them about starting school and discuss the storylines.
  • Take the journey to school together a few times and show your child where they will enter and be picked up.
  • Go over the school routine with your child, so that they know what to expect. Young children often have no real concept of time. Outline a distinct beginning, middle and end, with checkpoints that punctuate the day, such as morning tea and lunchtime.
  • Teach them how to ask questions. One of the scariest things can be not knowing what to do or who to ask if they have a problem. Talk through some scenarios with your child to help them prepare.

Be confident but acknowledge their emotions

Children will pick up on their parents’ stress and fears. Be positive and reassuring about your child’s new school adventure and show them that you trust their teachers. Be excited to find out about their school day.
Children need to feel that their emotions are valued. Saying things like “Don’t be silly” or “There’s nothing to worry about,” may make them think you don’t understand. 
Show empathy: “You’re finding this a bit scary, right?”, “I can see you’re worried about being without me.” Explain that it’s okay to feel that way and that you will miss them too.

Establish a goodbye routine

Talking to your child about what will happen when that first morning bell rings will ensure there are no scary surprises. Sneaking away without saying goodbye often makes things worse and may lead to your child feeling confused and more difficult to settle the next day. Instead, let your child know that you are leaving and that you will be back later. Short goodbyes are always better. Lingering can lead to more separation anxiety as they anticipate your departure. 
A hug, kiss and brief goodbye will suffice.
Make sure you firmly plant a bright smile on your face, even if you’re not feeling it. Fake it until you both make it through an amazing first day of Prep!
By the Prep team at King’s Christian College