Back to School
6 Teachers Share How They Help When Your Kid Really Misses You
They’re total pros.
My 5-year-old daughter starts kindergarten this year and I am, quite frankly, not ready. She's all registered, we have the school supply list, she's eagerly waiting to meet her teachers and hop on a school bus, and I'm over here just trying not to cry my eyes out. Of course, I'm thrilled for her. But, the overwhelming weight of this milestone makes it hard to breathe. And the thought that she might have a rough first day? That kills me even more. But luckily, teachers are teachers for a reason, and they really care. But not only do they care about your kids, they are pros — they’ve handled first day of school woes time and time again. And learning about all of the ways teachers help kids who mis their parents at school will make you want to buy them more than a coffee shop gift card as a back-to-school gift.
If you have a little one heading off to that big brick school for the first time, you're probably feeling the same way as me: Excited about a 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. block of time where I'm not having my work interrupted by shouts of, "watch me, mama!". But also terrified that your child is going to cry most of the day and miss you. Your heart is walking around outside your body, right? And now it feels like it's cracking. It’s hard to say who has more first-day-of-school separation anxiety — me, or my kindergartener-to-be. That's why Romper reached out to teachers across the country to find out how they help make this transition easier — for both you and your kids. Whether your child is overly confident about school or already crying about missing you, every teacher I spoke with had one big goal: To simply be there for their students.
How do you comfort a child who misses a parent at school?
"I give lots of hugs," Georgia kindergarten teacher Kristina French tells Romper. "Seriously, I hug all day long. I let my babies know that it’s OK to miss mommy and daddy. I tell them that they miss them, too. I let them know that every time they think of mom/dad, that they can feel it and they think of them, too."
She says some of her students will bring in pictures "or a special lovey" until they feel more comfortable in the classroom, and she also has "special" stuffed animals she lets her students hold. But French makes the connection between parents and their brand new kindergartner even stronger by reaching out herself. "Sometimes I take a picture of them and send it to mom/dad, and then I’ll read their response."
For some children, missing a parent goes deeper than just the few hours a day they're at school. Georgia high school English teacher Jennifer Modlin tells Romper that when she used to do after-school care until 6 p.m., she had kids from pre-K up through high school. And one little girl in pre-K was having a particularly rough day. "I just held her tight and I called her mom and let her talk to her," Modlin says.
In the first week of school, students bring in family pictures to decorate journals, and of course, lots of hugs and letting them share about their family.
How do schools deal with separation anxiety?
Kids missing their parents at school is not reserved for the kindergarten classroom. Teachers of nearly any school aged kids deal with separation anxiety from time to time. Even if your child is beyond the kindergarten stage and well into their elementary career, they can still have moments of uncertainty. Before she became a mother herself, she didn't feel very "motherly" to her students, says Georgia elementary school teacher Beth West. But, as a third-grade teacher, she has to reach into her ‘mom’ reserves. "I have had lots of criers and missing mom, even at the beginning of third grade," West says, but the key is to offer "lots of hugs and reassurance."
"I've allowed students to draw a picture/make a card about their favorite thing they did, and even call or Skype during lunch or recess,” says third-grade teacher Jamie Roy. “In the first week of school, students bring in family pictures to decorate journals, and of course, lots of hugs and letting them share about their family."
How to help your child feel comfortable at school
If you haven't thought about printing any recent family pictures, now may be the time to do it. Several teachers mentioned this as a go-to trick for helping kids feel safe and secure at school, including Deetz Whichard Hanna, a South Carolina Montessori teacher. In her classroom, says Hanna, all of the children bring in family pictures to put in frames around the room. "If they miss their family, they can take their picture to their desk or work mat with them."
But reassuring a student isn't just a one-on-one thing. Rather, Hanna says, it's a classroom effort, and at the beginning of the year, "we read lots of stories about starting school and about how parents come back after school. We use gentle distraction after acknowledging the feelings: 'It’s hard and sad to miss mommy. Would you like to make a picture for her so you can give it to her after school?' And in worst-case scenarios, I will sit with them and let them cry while I rub their backs (if they want me to)."
Is it normal for kids to miss their parents at school?
In short, yes. It’s so normal that every teacher we spoke with had go-to ways of handling it and support kids through their feelings of separation anxiety. Every teacher Romper spoke with said that they are never dismissive with a student — they listen, they hug, they reassure, and they do their best to make sure a child feels comfortable. While he doesn't deal with this a lot in his own classroom, says Bubba Brownley, who works for Teach For America in Texas, he makes sure the students who are feeling sad know that it's normal. “Lots of kids miss their families during the day," Brownley says to kids who are missing their families, reassuring them that those other kids made it through the day, too.
The long and the short of it is that — whether it’s their first day of kindergarten or they’re an elementary school pro experiencing a little homesickness — your kids are in good hands at school. Teachers are fully prepared for a student who is missing their parent, and they are ready with hugs, special stuffed animals, and communication to you if things get really tough. If you want to make sure that safety starts at home, French says she knows a lot of parents read The Kissing Hand before that first day of school — the story of little Chester Raccoon who's scared to go to school until his mother kisses the palm of his hand, and reminds him to hold it to his cheek when he's scared.
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