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Separation Anxiety and Your Kindergartner

“Separation anxiety” is an emotional response that is so common when people are removed from the familiar that it has a medical category for it. Along with post traumatic stress syndrome and similar emotional and psychological ailments in this category, it is at temporary emotional and psychological reversal caused by the sudden change of who or what we are used to being around.

Separation anxiety is a syndrome that is commonly observed in caregivers who are around a loved one for many months. Then when that loved one passes away, there is a sudden shock of not having that company. But there are lots of situations that can trigger separation anxiety including the empty nest syndrome when children go off to college, sudden departure of a spouse even if only for a short period of time or moving to a new town or job.

Probably the most common evidence of separation anxiety is in young children who are heading off to school for the first time. Even if your little boy or girl has been excited about that first day of school, when that time comes for her to get out of the car and go into that room full of strangers, anxious moments are very common. And the fact that they come along so suddenly can make them even harder to deal with, for mom and for the kindergartner to be.

As with any problem, the more you can get out in front of it, the easier it will be to handle when it comes up. The worst time to suddenly realize your little one is having a bout of separation anxiety is just as she tries to walk into the kindergarten room. So there is nothing like good old fashioned honesty when you are trying to take the teeth out of a problem.

It might seem that “leveling” with a five year old is a good idea. And it’s true that when talking about anything unpleasant or new with your youngster, you must handle the conversation lovingly and carefully. But it’s good to let your child know well in advance of that first day at kindergarten that mommy will be leaving her there and this will happen every day. By telling your child about what is going to happen, and specifically reviewing the feelings of insecurity and loneliness that may happen, you are giving her some time in advance to prepare for when the moment arrives.

There are some other very simple methods you can use to reduce the sense of separation and disorientation your child may feel during that first week at kindergarten. Most schools are very relaxed about letting mom bring the child to school and hang around for the first half hour or so. Then when you see your little one beginning to get engaged in the fun of being at school and starting to make friends, you can ease out of the room so the transition is smooth.

Keep in mind also that a child can sense your anxieties. And there is a natural sense of nervousness for your child and separation anxiety that mom will be going through. But you are an adult so you can cope with it. Get your own anxious emotions under control so you can pass your sense of calm and excitement about her first day at kindergarten on to her.

You can also send a photo of you or of the whole family with your child for her to keep in her notebook and feel you are always there. You might drop by for lunch for a few days to also make the length of time she is apart from you less stressful and help her with the transition. But the earlier you start preparing your child that the transition is going to occur and the more little things you do like letting her meet her teacher and other students in advance and role playing being apart from time to time, the easier that transition will go and the more successful you will be at reducing their anxiety of kindergarten and helping your baby start that path toward greater independence as she gets used to this first step, just going to kindergarten without mommy and enjoying it.


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