Separation Anxiety

September 19, 2012

How to help your little one adjust to going to school

By: Vicki Little
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Vicki Little

School anxiety is a hard thing to get through, for both the child and the parent. With my son it was easy. He was running in the door and barely telling me goodbye in his excitement to get to his friends and start his day. I remember once upon a time thinking that was just as hard on me as the tearful kiddo’s were on their moms. I felt like he just didn’t need me anymore, and I felt sad. Now I know that those tears are much harder than the flippant wave goodbye. Those tears are gut wrenching, they are heartbreaking, and they reverberate in your ears as you walk away.

I kept thinking that first week that if I was feeling so empty, alone and sad-how was she feeling? I could see her in my mind, that little hiccup she does when she gets so upset, her thumb stuck defiantly in her mouth, her bright eyes watering with brave tears. I knew she would be refusing to talk to anyone, doing what she was told to do without ever saying a word. The second week, I thought things were getting better. She didn’t even cry the last day! But then the next week came, and we were back to square one.

Even at home she seems different. If the mention of school gets brought up, she starts to stress out a bit. She clings to me quite a bit. She wants to be held a lot, if I open the door to go get the mail she won’t let me go without her. She cries more, sucks her thumb, and calls me mama instead of mommy. It breaks my heart to see her so upset. It has taken some trial and error, but I have found a few things that seem to be working quite well for her.


  • A lot of reassurance: I am constantly telling her that I am not going anywhere and that I love her and am proud of her.
  • Extra cuddle time, especially before bed. In addition I try to spend extra alone time with each kiddo.
  • Talk about school without being pushy. I will ask her to teach me the songs she is learning or we will hang up her projects and talk about how she made them. But if she starts to get upset, I wait and try again later.
  • Set and stick to routines.



  • Keep a consistent routine. Get up, eat, brush teeth, get dressed, go to school. In our house we have a rule of no TV that will distract her or cause her to get upset if she needs to leave in the middle of the show, and no playing other than coloring-which can easily be brought into the car to finish if need be.
  • Send them to school with a favorite stuffed toy. We put her favorite doll in her backpack that she can cuddle at school if she needs to.
  • Only discuss light topics. If she asks if I am going to stay (meaning “hey mommy, are you going to sit on that rock hard bench that is extremely close to the wall for two hours”), I simply say, I will be close by and then I ask her to sing me a song she likes.
  • Put a picture of you in their backpack. They actually took one of me at school and keep it there for her.
  • Give them something to look forward to. Some days she will want to bring her teachers a rock, today I told her to pick out fun earrings to wear and show them. When we get to school it puts her mind on something else.
  • Don’t delay. The longer you are there, the longer they will be upset. As hard as it is, get them settled, give them a hug and kiss and then leave. My daughter and I do the “Kissing Hand”, which is a FANTASTIC book. The basics of it are that you kiss their palm and then they close their hand real fast to make it stick and then when they miss you they can put their hand on their heart and feel close to you.

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