“The Invisible String is made of love
It connects us even when we are apart
When I’m at school and you’re not there
I have you in my heart.”
-Borrowed from The Invisible String Poem
As a kindergarten teacher, the first day of school was always a mixed bag of emotions for the littles coming into my classroom. In shiny new shoes and bright colorful backpacks, excitement oozed out of them. Until it was time for Mom and Dad to leave…cue the tears, clinging to legs, etc.
If this experience sounds familiar to you or if you are still in the throws of the drop off tears every day, fear not. It really does get better. Try these tried and true strategies for easing the stress that comes with the transition from home to school.
5 Tried and True Strategies to Help Small Children Feel Less Anxious about Going to School
Read The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.
When my oldest started preK, she cried every single morning. I was returning to work after giving birth to my youngest, and I was seriously struggling with postpartum depression – and my child cried like I was abusing her by leaving her with her exceptionally sweet teacher every single day. It was awful!
We read this book, and every morning, I pressed a lipstick kiss on the back of her hand. She would leave it there as a reminder of my love until it eventually washed off by washing her hands enough. You can find The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn on Amazon here.
Keep a photograph of yourself and your child together in your child’s backpack.
When your child starts to miss you during the school day, they can feel a sense of comfort and happiness by looking at the photograph.
Get a matching memento and wear it proudly
My daughter and I had matching necklaces for a long time. Some wear bracelets that can piece together. I would tell her that when she missed me, all she needed to do was rub her necklace and I would be thinking of her. It worked like a charm. Literally.
Read Patrice Karst’s The Invisible String.
Another great book to share and analogy to use is Patrice Karst’s The Invisible String. In this children’s book, a set of twins has a delightful talk with their mother about how the invisible string of love connects all of us, even when we cannot physically see one another.
Avoid long, drawn-out goodbyes.
Finally, it is easy to accidentally make things worse by remaining in the room to comfort your child as long as possible each day.
I know…I absolutely hated leaving my child crying at the door. However, engaging in a long, drawn-out goodbye does not help your child learn to quickly regulate when you leave. Being assertive, saying a loving goodbye, and leaving quickly will help your child to know what is expected and that a long, drawn-out fit will not prolong you leaving.
Final Thoughts – When is it something more than just the back-to-school blues?
On a final note, sometimes it isn’t just that your child has a bit of separation anxiety. My younger two children cried two or three times at drop off their first year at school. My oldest still cries frequently, and she is in the fifth grade.
Eventually, I had to face that her particular anxious episodes lasted far longer than what was developmentally appropriate. She was eventually diagnosed with panic disorder and severe anxiety.
So, how do we know when it goes beyond what is “typical” for children to become stressed over in these transitional moments? Mayo Clinic editorial staff (2021) offers the following description of separation anxiety disorder, a more severe and not typical form of anxiety in regards to separation from caregivers.
“Separation anxiety disorder is diagnosed when symptoms are excessive for the developmental age and cause significant distress in daily functioning.”
They describe the symptoms of separation anxiety to be the following:
- “Recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from home or loved ones.
- Constant, excessive worry about losing a parent or other loved one to an illness or a disaster.
- Constant worry that something bad will happen, such as being lost or kidnapped, causing separation from parents or other loved ones.
- Refusing to be away from home because of fear of separation.
- Not wanting to be home alone and without a parent or other loved one in the house
- Reluctance or refusing to sleep away from home without a parent or other loved one nearby.
- Repeated nightmares about separation.
- Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other symptoms when separation from a parent or other loved one is anticipated.”
In this case, it is best to seek out medical help. In our case, we started with our pediatrician, moved to a psychologist, and put a plan in place with the school to help her manage and be successful as the academic demands being placed on her became more rigorous. I am happy to report that after much trial and error to figure out what worked well for us, she is having a better year this year.
Mayo Clinic. (2021). Separation anxiety disorder. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/separation-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20377455
Further Resources on Anxiety in Young Children
If you found this article helpful, check out these other resources provided by The Lily-Jo Project.
- Children’s Resource for Anxiety
- Parent Resource for Anxiety in Children
- Books, Toys, and Gadgets…Oh My! Top Gadgets, Books, and Strategies to Battle Anxiety in Young Children
- Raising Happy, Resilient Children…What Works?
- Dealing with Stressful Moments: 5 De-Escalation Techniques for Avoiding the Meltdown
Looking for Support from Others? Join our Facebook Group
Being part of a supportive community that can lift you up on hard days and offer new ideas to try can be really beneficial. One such group is a private group of parents and educators that I moderate for on Facebook called “Kid’s Mental Health Lockdown Resources”. This group is sponsored by The Lily-Jo Project for anyone who works with children on a daily basis in any capacity. You can request to join this group here …we would love to have you!
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Brandy Browne is an early childhood educator in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com), her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.