Growing up is hard to do

Educators say parents must show confidence to help children deal with separaton anxiety

Educators say parents must show confidence to help children deal with separaton anxiety

August 15, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

On opening day, veteran kindergarten teachers such as Mike Pavlik see it all - the red-rimmed eyes, the long goodbyes, the clingy flurry of kisses and hugs that can't quite hold back welling tears.

And that's just the parents.

Letting go when school begins can be one of the first tests of fall.

"That's one of the tougher ones you're going to do in life, that and walk your daughter down the aisle," said Pavlik, a teacher at Conococheague Elementary School.

A father of five, Pavlik should know - he's had to remind himself that children often adjust more easily than their parents.


"The kids who have problems are the ones whose parents want to drop them off and stand around in the hallways and look through the fence," said Pavlik, who is entering his 33rd year as a teacher. "You know, I think the parents have a harder time with it than the kids do sometimes." Classes at Washington County Public Schools resume Aug. 24. Back-to-school nights for kindergartners and their parents are earlier in the week.

At Ranson (W.Va.) Elementary School, Principal Debra Corbett said a 1 1/2-hour-long orientation helps ease students' and parents' fears. Parents visit classrooms and see for themselves an abbreviated version of a typical day before they leave their children for meetings with school officials, Corbett said.

The Jefferson County school's first day is Aug. 29.

Corbett said children seem to do better with the transition if their parents exhibit confidence that everything is OK.

"If the kids see the parents are OK, generally the kids are OK; when the parents start crying, then the child starts crying," Corbett said.

Pavlik and other school officials said parents whose children previously attended preschools or child-care centers seem more comfortable with the start of kindergarten.

"So, really, we don't really have a lot of kids where this is their first separation from their parents," Pavlik said.

That has lessened the trauma of beginning school, some teachers said, but some parents still have a hard time letting go.

Just ask Kim Bussard.

"I cried like a big baby," Bussard recounted while her daughter, Katie, looked for books Wednesday night at Washington County Free Library.

Now that Katie is 11, Bussard likely will leave the crying to other parents. Her son starts his first official day of classes at Fairview Elementary School in Waynesboro, Pa., on Aug. 30.

"When he gets there, it's like I'll have trouble with leaving him," Bussard said. "No, I won't have trouble. It's like he'll have problems with me leaving."

Bussard said her son, 5-year-old Micah, still is uncomfortable at church out of her sight.

School personnel said to ease the transition, parents should establish a school routine and stick with it.

"Once they know their child is going to be in a situation that is safe and secure, and they know we're doing everything we can to make their child feel that way, parents are OK," Greencastle-Antrim Primary School Principal Mary Frey said.

Most children adjust pretty quickly, Pavlik said. He said parents should send their children off on buses from Day One rather than linger outside the classroom, disrupting the routine.

Most students' tears last only a few minutes, and only a couple students cry once class has started, Pavlik said.

"They're all kind of in the same barrel, and they all kind of migrate to each other for comfort," Pavlik said. "Within 15 minutes, the tears are all gone and we're all kind of working together - unless we have mom sort of hanging on in the cloak closet, and we do see that happen."

Don't count on Bussard, a mother of three, being one of those moms, anymore. She said it's both sad and exciting to see her little boy grow up.

"It's like they're growing up. It's like they're not babies anymore," Bussard said.

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