How are you feeling about the start of school this year? Do you or your child battle school separation anxiety?
I pride myself on having a close-knit family.
We love each other AND we like each other. And if I have my way, we’ll keep it that way.
(Oh, the kids fight nonstop of course. No getting out of that, no matter how much we love each other.)
My children are young. My older child begins second grade this year; my younger will be starting pre-K part time.
Neither of my children are those jump from the moving car, barely wave good-bye, don’t look back, can’t wait for school kind of kids. My “Aren’t you excited about school to start?” is usually met with at least a groan, but often a mist of tears.
Of course, I question my momming methods when I see mom friends posting their first day photos with captions like “No hug! Too excited to go be with their friends!” while I’ve got a stage five clinger sobbing as I duck out of the classroom. It feels…lonely.
Can we please normalize school separation anxiety?
I think it’s typical to be embarrassed by strong displays of emotions. But I refuse to apologize for my children’s tears at drop-off.
Because is this strong bond and connection we share really a bad thing?
At least for us, it’s by design. And that’s not to say those kids who are less “attached” aren’t as well-bonded; absolutely, there are a million ways to feel and show love. Every child– every person— expresses themselves differently. We feel at different levels of intensity, too.
I know that, at least with my older child, there’s some school separation anxiety in being apart from me. And of course, as a mom, I feel a low level anxiety every time I’m away from my children, too. I definitely feel that it’s within a normal, manageable range for both of us. It’s still an obstacle I see rearing it’s head this fall, especially given the circumstances.
As close-knit as we were before, since March of 2020, my kids haven’t stepped foot into a classroom. And we are all in for a monumentally huge adjustment this fall as they both go back to in-person learning. For my second grader, is has been 75 weeks since he was last physically at his school. That’s a practically a lifetime at his age.
I know he’s nervous. I am too. I’m nervous we’ll struggle with school separation anxiety like we did at the start of kindergarten, and before that, the start of preschool.
I worry about a million other things for this school year too; any unknowns in the last year and a half have felt less scary because I’ve been able to be with my children. I guess this is yet another iteration of the struggle we face from the moment we give birth– slowly letting go, letting our children spread their wings and fly, knowing they can get hurt and there are dangers out there beyond our control.
I hope my momma heart can handle sending them off to school, where they absolutely need to be.
They will certainly struggle, but also thrive. I won’t have the front row seat to their entire day anymore, but I’ll be eager for the play-by-play and waiting with a snack and a hug and an open ear at pickup.
I have faith in my ability to trust. In them, in myself. In their teachers and schools.
We will all be ok. It will all be ok.
Tips to Ease Back to School Separation Anxiety
I’ve also got a few small things that I’m planning to make the transition a bit smoother and hopefully ease the school separation anxiety.
Leave a Note
My son can read! I plan to leave a little note in his lunchbox so he knows I’m thinking of him. My daughter cannot yet read! I plan on leaving her a slip of paper with a sticker, a drawn heart, or a drawn “eye heart u”. Love translates.
The Invisible String
This book is really beautiful! The concept is that love creates an invisible string between people that can never be broken–even in death. Reading it before school has helped in years past, and I’m hoping it’s a useful tool this year too.
Token of Affection
Years ago, when I was in college, a beloved aunt sent me a tiny pewter heart for my change purse that said “someone special.” I carried it with me for years until I gave it to my son to keep in his pocket when he started kindergarten. It calmed me many times over the years, and it ended up calming his school separation anxiety too.
I’ve seen ads for matching parent/child bracelets that can be worn as a physical token of connection and bond. I think that’s a really beautiful idea, too.
If your child has their own desk or locker, send a photo of you two together along with them. It can be as obvious or discreet as your child wants/needs it to be! Looking at that picture might help them feel less lonely for you; I’ve known two families that have been helped by this advice.
Use Your Words
Children love their parents. And even the ‘tough’ kids at school surely miss them while they are at school. Assure your child they are perfectly normal in feeling this way! Because they are. I’m in my late thirties and I still rely heavily on my relationships with my parents. It’s not wrong for a four year old (or a thirty six year old!) to still need mom!
Truly, I can’t wait for a little freedom that accompanies my children’s first days of school.
Yes, I will be that mom, posting a picture of my mimosa and bubble bath on that first day of school, hashtag FREEDOM. But what you won’t see is that I might just be crying a bit into my bubbles…
When we’re apart, half my heart is missing. I’m so excited for them but I’m going to miss my tiny humans!
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