I recently wrote an article for the Family section of our local newspaper.
Away from home
Easing anxiety about the transition to more independence
LEWISTOWN - Summer has arrived! You've survived another academic year! Now it's time for sleeping in, vacationing and relaxing. However, summer can also bring sleep-away camps and anticipation of full-day kindergarten or a new school. These situations may bring about excitement for new experiences or fear of sudden independence.
It is important to note that experiencing separation anxiety is a normal part of early development, and it can relapse in various stages as children develop from infant to school-age. Childrens' levels of parental attachment, self-control and trust among other adults can fluctuate during this time. These changes may result in stress, tears and at times, even tantrums. To help ease both your child's and your own separation worries, we've provided some strategies and tips.
For sleep-away camps, The American Camp Association of New York & New Jersey suggests that parents:
Start Small - It's best if your child has successful one-night sleepovers before venturing into an entire week away from home. Overnight visits with grandparents, cousins, or friends can help build this confidence.
Consider different options - Is this a camp which involves one of your child's specific hobbies or interests? Before signing up, call and discuss the camp's philosophy, age groupings, camper expectations, etc.
Don't let them see you sweat - This is as much a transition for them as it is for you. If they see you being nervous, they'll be nervous too. Also, don't offer to pick them up if they hate it, as this suggests that they might. Be as positive as possible!
Remember the big picture - Generally, camp experiences consist of structured environments with trained, nurturing staff. Your child may be challenged to step out of their comfort zone, but they will also likely grow in confidence and make unforgettable memories.
The Parent Institute website offers a variety of tips for the transition to school:
Schedule visits or tours - Visit your child's school together and point out things they can look forward to. Be sure to identify their classroom, bathrooms and other important areas. Many schools offer orientations, bus rides or meet-the-teacher nights before school starts.
Make new friends - Are there other children in your neighborhood who are also starting school? Being able to recognize other students at school can help make your child feel more comfortable.
Provide reassurance - Let your child know that you are proud of them for getting to this point. Remind them that you can't wait to hear all about their great day.
Preparation is key - Establish a routine of laying out clothes and necessary school supplies the night before. Also, leave enough time for a good breakfast in the morning.
Hug and go - The less you linger on the first day, the better! School personnel are professionals at comforting and engaging students on the first day and every day.
There also are some fantastic children's books that address separation anxiety. Reading some of these titles together can help ease some worries and start some great discussions between parent and child. Many of these can be found at your local library!
"The Kissing Hand," by Audrey Penn
"Llama Llama Misses," Mama by Anna Dewdney
"Wemberly Worried," by Kevin Henkes
"First Day Jitters," by Julie Danneberg
Remember, you are providing your child with great academic and extracurricular opportunities. Entering into these experiences may require lots of coaxing and reassurance on your part. However, your child will likely develop valuable coping skills and be on their way to a newfound sense of independence. Best of luck!
Erin Rebling is the elementary school counselor at Indian Valley Elementary School, East Derry Elementary School and Strodes Mills Elementary School.