children and mother crying first day go to pre-kindergarten schoolFall has arrived. School is in. It’s possible your child might not be happy about it. For many parents it may be a time when young children have difficulty separating. A child is crying and clinging at the classroom door, unable to make the transition from home to school.

We often make the mistake of seeing children as small adults and become frustrated at what seems like the easy task of spending a day at school. But when you are young, it isn’t so easy. So often in my private practice, I help parents distinguish between what is frustrating and inconvenient for them but may be normal for their child.

What is a parent to do? There is a lot you can do to help them make this transition. Your child has been separated from you for several hours during sleep and now there is that short amount of time before they will be separating from you again to be in school all day. Connecting with your child during this time is key and can make all the difference. With all that has to happen to get out the door on time, this may seem like a difficult task. It need not take long however and the benefits can be profound.

Greet your child first in the morning. Let them know how delighted you are to see them, how you checked on them in the night. Cuddle them or ruffle their hair, take a few moments to let them know how special they are to you. And most challenging of all, preserve the connection even when you’ve already told them 3 times to get their socks and shoes on. I recall a morning not long ago when I was frustrated and grouchy. My daughter said to me … “Mommy, it’s hard to leave you for the day when we’re not friends.”

Also key in this transition phase is what Dr. Gordon Neufeld calls “bridging the divide” as he talks about in The Vital Connection, the first of his parenting video series. When it is time to say goodbye, let your child know how much you are looking forward to seeing them at the end of the day. Talk about the cookies you are planning to bake with them later, the story you look forward to reading them at bedtime. This helps them hang on to you and puts the focus on the return rather than the separation.

Giving your child something they can hold on to can also help; a locket, note, or something of yours. A wonderful book to pick up is The Invisible String by Patrice Karst. It talks about the heart connection we all hold with those we love, even when we can’t be with them physically. I read this to my daughter 2 years ago and as a ritual, we still run an invisible string from my heart to hers every time we part for the day.

Connecting in the morning, focusing on uniting again, and giving your kids something to hold onto during the day can go along way to strengthening attachment and decreasing separation alarm.

© 2024 The Neufeld Institute