Separation Anxiety and the School Year


I’ve been through this before. The tears, the screaming, the pleading. Hiding behind furniture in hopes that I won’t see them. I try to hold it together, but eventually, I shut myself in an empty room, and I cry, too. I blame myself. Maybe I should’ve left my kids more often when they were toddlers. A new school year, a new case of separation anxiety. It’s exhausting.

Having multiple children has taught me that you can parent each child the same way, and no two children will ever be the same. My oldest ran into preschool without looking back. She never complained about going to school, and in hindsight, I had it easy. My second child, not so much. The tears and complaining went on for months, even though his teachers assured me he was fine once he was in the classroom, and they sent me the pictures to prove it.

This year, all three of my kids are in school, and separation anxiety has made its way back into our home. Every night, I go to bed bracing myself for the tears that I will witness in the morning — sometimes, from all three of my children.

Change is hard.

My kids have just spent nine weeks of summer with me all day, every day. Trips to the playground, ice cream dates, various day camps, and a lot of downtime in our backyard or vegging out on the couch watching TV are just some of the things that we spent time doing over the summer. I can’t really blame them for having a hard time going back to school five days a week, seven hours a day. I can’t say that I’d be ready to go back, either. Even though I know all of that from a logical standpoint, it doesn’t make it easier.

“Give Yourselves Six Weeks.”

A mom from dance class told me years ago, “Give yourselves six weeks,” when talking about adjusting to a new school year. Six weeks feels so long to me when we’re in it, but I’m trying to remember that we need to give it time as I navigate these big feelings with my kids. This is important for me to remember after long school breaks, too. I know that the first week or two back can be rough.

The Anxiety is Real for Mom, Too.

While my kids are sorting through their separation anxiety, I’ve come to realize that I need to sort through my own anxiety, too. We’re not exactly feeling peaceful in the morning when tears are streaming down a child’s face as they get ready to go to school, and that can leave me feeling down for the rest of the day. My first instinct is to pull them into a hug and let them stay home with me forever, but since that’s not realistic or healthy, I’ve found that the best thing for me to do is ask for help.

Coping Strategies

  • Reach out to the child’s teacher. I’ve done this with multiple teachers over the years now, and I’ve only received helpful advice. My kids tend to hold in all of their emotions while they’re at school, so their teachers don’t even know they’re internally struggling. Just knowing that we’re all on the same page is helpful because it’s very anxiety-provoking to send a crying child to school and then not know if they’re okay for the next seven or eight hours.
  • Get the school counselor involved. Although teachers are helpful, they are busy and manage a lot of different behaviors and emotions. Now that I’m an elementary school parent, I’ve realized that the school counselor is a great person to reach out to for extra support.
  • Send a child to school with a reminder of you. My son’s preschool teacher recommended I send him to school with something that reminds him of me, and so still, two years later, a Polaroid picture of us lives in the pocket of his lunchbox for him to see every day at lunch. My daughter said seeing a picture of me would make her more sad, so I think this one is dependent on the child!
  • Don’t be above bribing. This is not professional advice, but I have found that promising an ice cream treat or a trip to the park after school is enough to make a child excited to go to school. My kids go back to school early, and sometimes, I’m sure they wish they could be at home enjoying the rest of summer!
  • Be patient. This is advice for myself because every day, I need to remind myself to be patient with my kids and with myself. Adjusting to a new routine takes time for the whole family, and in my experience, if one person feels off, usually the rest of the family does too.