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Coping with Separation and Tears on the First Day of School

Perhaps you’ve seen the video from a Los Angeles news report of the little boy crying when asked if he’ll miss his mom on his first day of preschool.

“No,” four-year-old Andrew says stoically before separation anxiety gets the best of him and he breaks into tears.

“I feel awful about that little boy,” KTLA Reporter Courtney Friel said. “He was trying to be so brave. He was laughing with me and it turned into a cry. I am a mom. I have a three- and four-year-old. So, I’m going to go through that, too.”

Indeed, the first day of school is bound to elicit tears from young children and parents, alike.

Consider these comments from moms who previously dealt with the issue on the website

  • “My little guy is starting school . . . and every time I think about it, I get a big lump in my throat. I can’t even talk to anyone about it without getting choked up. . . . I’m a mess.”
  • “Mine is starting preschool. . . . He’s three and a half, and I cry every time I think of it. I don’t want to lose my baby yet.”
  • “My oldest starts on August 19. It makes me so sad. He was my one and only baby for so long. . . . He is so ready to start, but I am not.”

While a bit of nervous excitement is natural during any student’s first day back to school, this temporary separation anxiety is one less problem that homeschoolers and online learners don’t have to worry about. Their schools aren’t a half-mile walk or a five-mile bus ride from home.

But for those dealing with their little one going off to school for the first time, offers advice that could ease grownups and kids through the potential trauma.

“Entering a new environment filled with unfamiliar people can cause anxiety for children—and their  parents!” write Karin A. Bilich and Ilisa Cohen at “Saying goodbye on that first day can be the hardest moment for parents and children. . . . The more calm and assured you are, the more confident your child will be.”

They recommend that parents visit the child’s classroom before school begins and meet the teacher if possible. In addition to making it clear that the teacher is to be trusted, they also recommend introducing the child to common school activities such as storytelling or drawing.

And when it comes to easing that heart-wrenching moment, Bilich and Cohen offer the following tips for “tear-free” goodbyes:

  • “Ask the teacher whether your child can bring along a stuffed animal to keep in her cubby in case she needs comforting.”
  • “When it’s time to go, make sure to say good-bye to your child. Never sneak out.”
  • “Once you say good-bye, leave promptly. Don’t linger. The longer you stay, the harder it is.”

The good news is that parents will come to grips and children will rise to the occasion.

In the case of Andrew in California, his mom was there to offer a reassuring hug once the interview was over. Moments later, he marched through the door, ready to begin his first day of school.

Featured Image via KTLA 5 News


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Seth Livingstone

Seth Livingstone

Seth Livingstone is a veteran writer and editor who has spent much of his career in sports journalism covering multiple Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series, and Daytona 500s. He covered the Boston Red Sox throughout the 1980s and 1990s before joining USA Today and Baseball Weekly in 1999. He maintains his membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America and is a Hall of Fame voter. Seth holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and has also worked as a substitute teacher (all grades and subjects). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and has two grown children.

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