By Dr. Stacie Bunning, clinical psychologist
My 5-year-old cries every day when we drop her off at kindergarten. I have talked to her teacher and she tells me, "Rest assured, once you leave she stops crying." But it has been two weeks since school started and it's the same thing every day. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?
This is an extremely common problem and one that is easily remedied with the passage of time. Going to school for the first time can be overwhelming for little ones, especially if they are used to being away from home. It can also be overwhelming for parents, who feel anxious about being separated from their children for such long periods. Here are a few things you can do to make the process easier for her (and yourself!).
First, ensure that your little girl is getting adequate sleep each night. Poor sleep can lead to mood swings, behavior problems and even learning difficulties. According to the National Sleep Foundation, school-aged children require 10-11 hours of sleep each night, so keep a consistent bedtime routine for your child. In the morning, wake her early enough so that she can get ready for school in a relaxed fashion and enjoy a healthy breakfast. Play a favorite CD in the car on the way to school; allowing your child to choose a few songs may give her a feeling of control.
Second, monitor your own reactions to your child's distress. Children are amazingly perceptive when it comes to their parents' emotions, and your daughter is likely sensing your feelings of concern. This may fuel her anxiety and her desire to stay close to you. Lingering at drop-off time, while understandable, is likely to backfire. It is likely that by delaying your own departure you are reinforcing her tearful behavior. Your best bet is to give her a quick hug and tell her you'll see her at pick-up time. Then, be on your way. Have a plan to assuage your own nerves, such as calling a trusted friend as you leave school or stopping for a coffee.
Finally, find ways to help your daughter feel more connected to her school. Sign her up for an after-school activity such as Scouts or soccer, and take her to school-sponsored events where she will see her classmates, such as fall and winter festivals. Plan weekend play dates for her with peers from her classroom so that she develops friendships and looks forward to seeing the other children at school.
If your daughter continues to show distress at drop-off after you have tried some new techniques, consider having someone else drive her for awhile, just to change the pattern that has been established. You might also talk to your pediatrician about a referral to a qualified mental health practitioner for some supportive therapy sessions.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
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