There are lots of reasons why children can have difficulties settling in at school, but separation anxiety is common in young children, especially early on in the term or when returning after a school holiday or a few days off sick. Seeing your child unsettled and anxious can be stressful and upsetting for the parent too, but there are a few things you can do to make it a little easier for both of you.
Get everything ready the night before, with school uniform laid out, shoes, coat and school bag ready by the door. This will help you avoid any stress in the morning and you can spend some quality time with your child before school, maybe reading their favourite book or just talking about all the exciting things they’ll be doing in their class that day.
Discuss what is going to happen when you arrive at school, how long you are going to stay for and how you expect them to go in to their classroom calmly. You could set up a reward system, such as a marble jar and for each day they get ready for school and go in without a fuss they get another marble in the jar. Agree on a special treat they can have when the jar is full, such as a trip to the cinema. Use a relatively small jar so they can see it filling up fairly quickly, which will motivate them to do well. Once the jar is full, if they still need a little encouragement to go to school, you could start again with a slightly larger jar.
You could even use a smiley face sticker when wrapping their sandwiches or on their water bottle to let you know you’re thinking of them during the day.
Remind your child what you talked about in the morning and that you’ll be leaving soon but will be back as soon as school is finished. Give them one hug and say goodbye, then try to leave without going back for ‘just one more’ hug as this can make things worse and the child may start to think if they make a fuss you will stay for longer. Try not to turn back even if they cry, as long as you know they are safely with a teacher and not running out after you! Most children will settle very easily once the school day begins and their parents have left.
Make sure you are there on time to pick them up, with a smile, at the end of each day and tell them how proud you are that they went in to school so nicely.
If nothing seems to work and the school run is not getting any easier, make sure you speak to your child’s teacher to see what they can advise. You may be able to take your child in to their classroom a little earlier for a few weeks to help them settle, or they might offer to phone and reassure you that your child is happy once you’ve left. You can also check with the teacher that there are no friendship issues or anything else that may be affecting your child’s enjoyment of school. Be consistent and try to stay calm and as your child gets used to the school routine their anxiety should ease.