The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

How to Handle Separation Anxiety on the First Day of School

By Julie Shapiro | August 17, 2012 6:09pm | Updated on August 17, 2012 8:20pm
Bella Truman was so excited for her first day at the Spruce Street School that she made a face as her mother took a picture Sept. 8, 2011.
Bella Truman was so excited for her first day at the Spruce Street School that she made a face as her mother took a picture Sept. 8, 2011.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

NEW YORK — It's back to school time — but not everyone is ready.

While some youngsters will race eagerly into their new preschool and kindergarten classrooms on the first day of school in September, others will tearfully cling to their parents and beg to go home.

This separation anxiety is normal, but there is plenty parents can do in advance to calm their children — and themselves.

Denise Cordivano, head of the Battery Park City Day Nursery, suggests that parents talk to their children regularly about going to school, describing the new daily routine and even visiting the building.

"Pass by the school and let them look in the windows," Cordivano said. "Build up their anticipation."

Before the school year starts, parents of incoming kindergarteners can also encourage their children to be more independent by accomplishing tasks like dressing themselves, which can help ease the transition to school, the Department of Education said.

Parents can also review basic concepts with their children, like numbers, colors, shapes and patterns, to familiarize them with the vocabulary they will hear in school, the DOE said.

Dennis Gault, a special education teacher at P.S. 19 in the East Village, recommends that parents read school-themed picture books to their children, particularly ones that introduce the idea of classroom rules and routines.

One of Gault's favorites is "The Art Lesson" by Tomie dePaola, in which young Tommy must learn to balance his creativity with his art teacher's by-the-book lessons. 

If a student is consistently homesick, Gault sometimes suggests that the child bring in a picture of his or her parents to look at during the day, but usually that isn't necessary. 

"Very few kids have a serious issue," Gault said of newcomers adjusting to school. "Generally, it may be one kid per class [who] has a hard time on the first day."

The only cause for alarm is if children are continually upset about school, to the point where their sleeping or eating habits change, experts said. At that point, the parents should dig deeper to see what exactly is causing their child so much stress.

Parents should also realize that tots aren't the only ones who suffer from separation anxiety — sometimes it's the grownups who are actually more nervous, said Cordivano, who has led the Battery Park City Day Nursery for the past 16 years.

Parents may worry they will miss their child or their child won't make friends, and that anxiety then infects the children as well, Cordivano said.

"If the parent is so-so about school, the child is going to pick up on those emotions and it will be more difficult for them to adjust," Cordivano said.

She advises nervous parents to speak to school staff in advance to get more comfortable and to raise any concerns they have. Parents should find out the school's rules on whether parents are allowed in the classroom, so no one is surprised on the first day of school, Cordivano said.

Even once children have adjusted, it's normal for them to sometimes backslide into old behaviors, like crying when they get dropped off in the morning — after all, adults, too, sometimes wish they could take a day off.

"You may love your job, but some days you just want to stay in bed," Cordivano said. "That's human — don't worry about it."