By Dr. Michele Borba and Sasha Emmons, TODAY contributors
It's easy to think that separation anxiety is just for clingy babies, but even your normally cool-as-a-cucumber kid can get unnerved when it comes to starting school. Whether he's heading to a brand new school (hello, kindergarten!) or just feeling the jitters about the year ahead, these smart tips will help ease any back-to-school anxiety.
Make a plan
Too much change in one fell swoop is overwhelming for anyone, especially a little kid. So instead of rolling out a whole new morning routine — and then sending him off to a new school — do some dry runs the week before. Post a schedule (with photos or clip art for non-readers) so your child knows exactly what to expect in the mornings and feels empowered to do as much as possible on his own.
Get sleep back on track
If bedtimes slide during summer (and of course they do!), get back on track a couple weeks before school begins by starting lights-out 10 minutes earlier until you’re back to normal. By the time the big day arrives, you’ll all be well-rested and ready to conquer school.
Invest in something special
A new backpack, shoes or a special outfit can give your little students that extra mojo they need to tackle the unknown of a new classroom. Build excitement by making a day of back-to-school shopping, and let her choose the key items (even if that means pink, pink and more pink). She’ll feel her best wearing something that’s so her.
Rehearsing a goodbye can help a child feel more secure when the big moment really comes. A few weeks prior to the school send-off, let your child stay a bit longer than usual with a babysitter, grandparent or friend so he gets used to spending time apart from you. It also helps to create and practice a private “goodbye” between the two of you — like a secret handshake or special kiss. Or put a pretty pebble or a key chain with your photo in his pocket and explain that whenever he touches it, you’re thinking of him, wherever you are.
Stay calm and say goodbye
Your child picks up on your cues, so when that first day of school finally arrives, try to stay positive and calm. If you can go into the classroom with him, look for an activity he may enjoy in the classroom — say, a puzzle or blocks — and sit down and do it together. Or help him find a familiar face and strike up a conversation. Keep goodbyes short and use your secret “goodbye” ritual. And don’t linger— it often can increase your child’s anxiety.
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