Today we’re bringing you Part 1 of a two part series on Back to School Tips thanks to Elise Wald, Clinical Psychologist, Jo Harris, Play Therapist and our friends at Kimochis… Toys with Feelings Inside®.
What’s your best piece of advice for parents who have children that are experiencing separation anxiety when starting school or kinder?
Try to organise play dates with other children attending the same kinder or school as familiarity helps build self-esteem and confidence. Your child will feel comforted by knowing they have someone to play with. If it’s not possible to organise a play date, try a car pooling arrangement with another family who has children attending the same school or kinder – again, this will help your child feel more secure.
Give your child something small that reminds them of you to take to school or kinder. This could be a photo, a piece of your jewelry, or a favourite teddy or toy (if the school will allow).
Specialised therapy toys are also available to assist with separation anxiety. These are called ‘Nesting Heart’ from Kimochis (meaning ‘feelings’ in Japanese). Nesting Heart is a soft, velvety smiling heart nestled inside another ‘holding’ heart that helps children feel connected to you when you’re separated – your child keeps one half of the heart either in their pocket or school bag and you keep the other (www.kimochis.com.au).
Talk to your child about creating a statement they can say to themselves when they feel anxious. Some examples include, “I can be brave,” “I am doing ok,” “it will get easier,” “mum/dad will be back and are thinking of me,” “mum/dad are always in my heart like I am in theirs” etc.
Reassure your child in encouraging tones that you will be back to collect them after school and make sure you let them know who will be collecting them.
Ensure that school drop off is a quick process – don’t linger or enter into any bargaining arrangements. Remember that this will only increase your anxiety, which in turn, will increase your child’s anxiety.
Discuss any concerns you have with your child’s teacher or the school counselor so that they can encourage your child to settle and feel safe.
What are the signs that a 4-6 year old child is experiencing separation anxiety and how can parents best deal with this?
It’s fairly normal for both you and your child to feel anxious about starting school or kinder. It’s important to recognise that this is a period of transition for the whole family. Most 4-6 year old children are able to draw on their inner resources to settle into school life and to feel safe and secure once they’ve started school or kinder. For most children, this period of unrest only lasts for the first few hours of school/kinder.
However, a small percentage of children in this age group will suffer significant anxiety about separating from you. You should seek advice or assistance if this persists for more than four weeks, or if it’s impacting on your child’s ability to engage in school activities.
Another sign to look for is if your child indicates excessive and persistent concerns about harm befalling you. You should look out for any somatic symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, loss of appetite, problems with sleeping, nausea or vomiting.
You should also pay attention to the level of your child’s refusal to go to school as well as their anxiety when at home in a room without you.
If you notice these signs persisting for four or more weeks, it’s recommended that you speak to your GP, the school counselor, teacher, play therapist or psychologist as soon as possible. It’s also worth considering a preventative intervention plan if you know your child is prone to feeling anxious without you.
It’s important to maintain a steady routine for the first four weeks of school or kinder. Your child will benefit from being able to predict the routine and it’s also helpful to create a pictorial calendar of daily events that you and your child can integrate into their daily routine. In addition, if your child is prone to anxiety, try to keep any other activities to a minimum and avoid starting new extra curricular activities for at least the first four weeks of the school term.
Monitor your own anxieties about how your child is coping and speak to someone who can assist you if need be. Chatting to other parents with children at school can also prove very helpful.
Elise Wald, MA Psych (Health) MAPS, Clinical Psychologist
Elise has a passion for developing strengths and motivating others. She is particularly interested in the field of mindfulness and wellbeing. Her special interests are adjustment and behavioural change, self-esteem, emotional intelligence and sleep psychology. She works eclectically drawing on CBT, mindfulness and positive psychology. Elise works with children, adolescents and adults. Elise also conducts training for practitioners in social emotional learning using the Kimochis system, sleep therapy and change coaching.
Jo Harris, BA Childhood Studies Play Therapy, Play Therapist
Jo is a qualified early childhood practitioner with over 15 years experience working with children as a kindergarten teacher and director in Melbourne, the United Kingdom and Belgium. Jo has a special interest in supporting young children in their emotional development, with a passion for developing a love of learning and discovery through play. Jo is a member of Play Therapy International and Play Therapy Australasia.