Kindergarten is part of the K-12 education system in the United States and for many children, it is the first instance of formal education. Entering the school system brings with it several new experiences for a five year old. The first true separation from their parents, the first peer community, probably the first period of life under the control of adults who are non-relatives all happen at this age. Kindergarten separation anxiety is a common problem in school children today, but parents are not powerless.

A Difficult Transition

The transition from the usual social environment of home and the continuous availability and proximity of the parent to a new social environment can have certain barriers. Children usually need a period of time to accommodate to the new environment and its rules and the experience of separation from the parent can be a subjective trauma as well.

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Starting school can be seen as a normative change in the life of a child. Sooner or later it happens to everyone and most children adapt to the new challenges relatively smoothly.

Separation anxiety is considered a normal stage of development, but it is expected to decrease by the time a child enters kindergarten. It can more frequently happen when children experience changes in their lives, for example when they start school. Separation anxiety is usually stronger in younger children.

Symptoms of Kindergarten Separation Anxiety

With some children however, the symptoms of separation anxiety are reappearing or strengthening when they enter kindergarten. Anxieties can interfere with adjustment and can represent a barrier of academic achievement. In this case we speak about separation anxiety disorder or SAD. SAD is characterized by excessive anxiety about the separation from home or the caregivers. It differs in intensity from anxiety considered to be normal. Separation anxiety must last at least four weeks to be regarded as a disorder. Various symptoms characterize SAD such as:

  • frequent worry or nightmares about bad things happening to the parent
  • crying, temper tantrums, sulking or getting nervous when the parent leaves
  • refusing participation in classroom activities or having difficulties being alone or worrying about getting lost can also be typical
Separation anxiety manifests in the child, but often reflects the fear and unpleasant feelings of the parent also.

Anxiety can lead to somatic symptoms (PDF) without timely and proper intervention. The refusal of school is a common problem among children experiencing kindergarten separation anxiety. The symptoms mentioned above can culminate in morning battles at home and in the classroom as well.

Separation anxiety manifests in the child, but often reflects the fear and unpleasant feelings of the parent also. The relationship between the parent and the child reflects in the adaptation to the new environment and the forming social relationships of the child. According to recent result, mothers are suffering most due to the child starting school. The most concerned, the children make less fuss about it. However, when they sense the anxiety, fear or other negative feelings of the parent, they almost certainly reflect it somehow.

Dealing With Kindergarten Separation Anxiety

Various techniques are suggested how to deal with kindergarten separation anxiety. Encouraging discussion about fears and feelings, establishing a routine for leaving the child in the kindergarten, teach direct coping methods to children, assigning the child to a peer are considered as useful strategies.

Problems can surface with a positive attitude, but let us not make the start any harder than it should be.

The role of prevention cannot be underestimated however. When the child does not feel that the parent conveys the message of being afraid of separation and having doubts about kindergarten because of a variety of reasons, they would be far less likely to have separation anxiety. Parents need to know and mediate to their children the positive expectancies and hopes regarding their school career.

How our children feel in the context of formal education depends significantly on the parents. Problems can surface with a positive attitude, but let us not make the start any harder than it should be.

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