It’s the beginning of the school year filled with fresh haircuts, the sound of new squeaky sneakers, and the smell new crayons! This new beginning is exciting. It can also lead to high anxiety for parents and children. Reluctant parents send their kids away for the first time. It’s obvious who they are because they linger in the halls and fill my inbox with messages to make sure their babies are okay.
Educators are faced with establishing new routines and structure while trying to reassure families that school is a safe place. There reaches a point when the school counselor is asked to step in with our magic toolboxes and make it all better. With nine kindergarten classes and six four-year old kindergarten classes, I have learned some tried and true strategies to equip your toolboxes with ideas that help parents with separation anxiety.
Ways to Support Parents
Set up a booth during open house and offer tips to help ease the transition such as setting up a goodbye routine. Encourage parents to download free the Daniel Tiger app for parents. Under the song list tab at the bottom, click on “Good-bye Times”. It will play a clip of the song, “Grownups Come Back” and has a short video to watch. School counselors can use this too! I often sing it to my students as I walk them to their classrooms. The song is catchy and singing helps relieve stress.
During kindergarten orientation, introduce yourself and go over some myths/facts about separation anxiety provide brochures. The School Counselor Is In has a School Anxiety-Parent Brochure that is one of my go to resources for helping parents with separation anxiety.
Establish trust with families. When I step in to help a parent and child separate by asking the parent to leave while I assist the child, it’s important to follow up with that parent. When I give a follow up phone call, I thank them for trusting me to help and acknowledge how difficult it can be for the parent. If you’re limited on time, ask the parents for their email addresses and send a picture of their child in the classroom.
Since parents are often anxious too, it’s helpful to go over general guidelines of when parents can expect a call from the teacher. Explain the importance of having a consistent morning routine and coming to school on time. Coming in late often heightens anxiety for children.
Build up your book list. My favorite book is Don’t Go to School. The cover tells it all; in this book the parent is lingering and doesn’t want their child to go to school. My other favorites are Llama Llama Misses Mama, The Invisible String, The Kissing Hand, and Mental Fills’ Separation Anxiety: A Therapeutic Story with Activities . These books are perfect to lend out to families or to use in small group sessions.
Usually within the first few weeks of school, most children will get into a routine and these issues will resolve on their own. When it doesn’t, further intervention may be needed.
Work with the parent to drop the child off with a designated school personnel who can then walk their child to class or recommend having the child ride the bus instead of being a car rider. If you’re looking for an easy printout to give to families, try out this Separation Anxiety Toolkit for Parents.
In severe cases, when a child is completely inconsolable for hours and hours, a temporary modified school day may be the answer until student adjusts. Also using programs such as BoardMaker or www.lessonpix.com to create visual schedule can help ease anxiety of not knowing what’s coming next.
Now that your magic toolboxes are equipped with these strategies, you too can help families and teachers deal with separation anxiety with confidence!
Share your own strategies below and pin this for later!
School counselor with 12+ years of experience, I’ve worked with elementary and middle school students. I also have a passion for supervising aspiring school counselors. Currently, I work with students ages 3-1st grade at an early childhood center.
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