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LN Parenting: Separation Anxiety and the First Day of School - Ladue News: Kids & Parenting

LN Parenting: Separation Anxiety and the First Day of School

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Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 1:20 pm

Most back-to-school articles tend to talk about preparing kids for the first days of school—and this is an important, attention-worthy topic. I, however, want to focus on us, the parents, and how we deal with the freedom that September brings. While many are excited to reclaim their homes and their free time, some actually dread the start of school and experience significant stress about their child’s academic success, social circles and self-esteem.

Just like their children, parents can experience anxiety as summer vacation ends. Furthermore, an anxious adult can negatively impact their child’s mood as kids have an intuitive sense about their parents’ emotional state. If we don’t keep our feelings under control, our kids may mirror our behavior.

The pangs of separation often impact parents as they overly worry about how their children are adjusting to the start of school. In fact, some mothers drop by the classroom and send teacher emails to alleviate their concerns. Others overcome their anxiety by delving into household projects. But these short-term fixes may not relieve those anxious feelings, so try to engage in some endorphin-boosting activities such as running or scheduling extra time at the gym.

Many parents also rightfully fear that the initial separation associated with the first day of school will be overly emotional for themselves and their children. Visions of a crying child often loop through a concerned mother’s mind, especially because this actually could happen. Emotional or not, parents need to exit school quickly after the initial drop-off. In fact, a parental presence typically prolongs the stressful situation. While it is painful to see a panicked child, parents need to keep a stiff upper lip and move on. Teachers are well-equipped to handle these opening-day meltdowns.

Another big stressor is being unprepared for the start of the new school year. Many parents focus on getting kids ready with back-to-school shopping, visiting the appropriate doctors and attending to last-minute details. It is just as important to review school paperwork that contains valuable information about your child’s teachers, room number and needed school supplies. Also, pay attention to adjusted hours that often accompany the first few days of school. This will ensure the first week goes smoothly, reducing not only your anxiety but also creating a positive experience for your kids.

The start of school also has been known to create moody, cranky children, causing many parents to be overly apprehensive about the first few weeks. These elevated emotions are the result of newly imposed structure. Students spend all summer waking when they want and lounging about the house. Overnight, they must get up early and eat at scheduled times. A week before the opening bell, structure the day like school is in session. Adjusting the internal body clock prior to the big day puts everyone in a better mood.

Also, don’t forget to talk to your kids about opening-day jitters. Parents should not only reassure but also problem-solve. Show empathy, work on real solutions to their valid concerns and avoid dwelling too much on the situation. Parents can create bigger issues if they over focus on a child’s problems. Once you realize that your student is well-prepared, your parental anxieties will be significantly reduced.

Lastly, to further alleviate any anxious parental feelings, email your child’s teacher. Professionals are happy to provide feedback about school progress. In fact, be specific about your concerns to receive relevant information about your situation. Teachers appreciate the inquiries, and this will further ensure that both you and your child have a stress-free start.

The beginning of the school year is a period of adjustment for all family members. A good start, however, will benefit a student’s attitude, confidence and performance long after the opening bell has rung. Even if things get a bit shaky, parents need to maintain a positive attitude. Time will resolve most issues, and kids are actually more resilient than their parents realize.

Russell Hyken is a psychotherapist who works with families and young adults. For more information, call 691-7640 or visit teenparentingexpert.com.

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