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Separation Anxiety: Adjusting to Kindergarten

Separation Anxiety: Adjusting to Kindergarten

The third week of kindergarten has just kicked off. If someone were to ask me how it’s going, I wouldn’t be sure how to answer. My daughter seems to love school. She loves the learning aspect of school, is excited to get on the bus each morning, comes home happy, all things I expected. What has totally taken me off guard is the separation anxiety she is going through. She started at Bright Horizons at four months old and minus a few major holidays, was in child care five days a week, 9-10 hours day. Kindergarten should be a piece of cake!

It hasn’t been. Just last week I received an email from the teacher explaining that Madalyn was having a difficult day. She wasn’t herself and seemed to be crying quite a bit. I was really happy the teacher emailed me. It’s been hard adjusting to the lack of communication but that too I expected, it’s a part of growing up. At least I now knew I’d hear from the teacher if Maddie was really struggling. On the day she cried, I couldn’t figure out exactly why (she kept saying she missed me but I didn’t feel like was the full picture). She’s had a few complaints and they’ve been little things – lunch is too short, she wishes she could go to the pick-up line at the end of school instead of getting on a bus – but nothing major.

Then recently I volunteered for picture day at her school. After her picture was taken, she burst into tears. She wanted to go home, she didn’t want to be at school. While her class sat waiting for the other kids, she kept getting up to give me one more hug or one more kiss. I apologized profusely to the teacher. I didn’t know she would react this way. What saddens me is that I will probably have to decline any future volunteer opportunities until she settles further.

Is kindergarten just a very scary place for her? Although she’s been in child care for more than five years, it’s always been with the same kids. She’s so outgoing that most of the kids, regardless of age, knew who she was at Bright Horizons. In fact she went back to child care when school was closed recently and the teachers told me it was like a celebrity was there for the day. Maybe that change is what was causing these floods of emotion.

I am trying to come up with ways to get through this period. I’m thinking of reintroducing a chart system I used with her when she was younger, giving her a sticker for each day she doesn’t cry at school (the honor system of course). Once she gets two weeks worth of stickers, she gets to pick out a new toy.

Behavior Modification Chart

I’m open to other suggestions though and would also love to hear of other experiences parents are having during the first few weeks of kindergarten.



  1. Brenda September 28, 2012 at 1:29 am

    I do not have a better solution, however I do not think it is a good idea to give your child stickers for not crying at school. You’d be rewarding her for suppressing her emotions.
    There must be a better way for her to be able to come to terms with her emotions, and move past this adjustment issue.
    This is only a temporary problem; don’t lose hope!

  2. Mrs. D. September 29, 2012 at 2:28 am

    I know how heartbreaking it can be to watch your child suffer. Our son was apprehensive in his daycare before kindergarten! That would be due to a change in teachers. All were nice, but some teachers were just more loving and welcoming than others. And his personality needed the extra TLC. We’d practice how we would greet the teacher or ask for something during class. Some days it worked, other days it didn’t. Entering K we didn’t know what to expect. Larger class size made him appear to be a distracted child. Loud bus rides were troy ling for him. We couldn’t change his class size. But we took him off the morning bus and drove him to a school ourselves. we discussed his concerns with his aftercare teacher who helped fill in the blanks when it came to small focused lessons. You may have to suffer through a bit, but keep pumping Maddie with confidence. Tell her how strong and confident she is. Praise her by telling her how proud of herself she must be. Show empathy by letting her know her feelings are okay and you know that it’s hard for her. Hug her. Change is hard. The school bus thing can also be quite unnerving for a 5 yr old. Pay attention to her bus concerns. Can she have a buddy she always sits next to? Can she sit close to the driver?

  3. Profile photo of Amy

    Amy October 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    It was about this same time that my daughter (also in kindergarten this year) starting showing signs of transition anxiety. It came a little out of the blue because, like you, she was loving school and her teacher and her new friends. One night she was sobbing about her new before and after school sitter who comes 3 days during the week when I am not working at home. She wanted me to be the one to be home rather than the sitter. I asked her lots of questions about this but ultimately it boiled down to simply transition anxiety and adjusting to the new schedule. I’ve been working with her sitter to come up with fun ideas for those days and I also I’m letting time work it’s magic. It’s a big change from full-day daycare to the school system and I know it will get easier as she adjusts. I’m also trying to have more one-on-one time with her and making it a point to talk about all the happy and potentially “sad” parts of her day. And like the previous poster I also try to use words of encouragement about how grown-up and brave she is to be in kindergarten. I think that’s helping a lot.

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