#CultivateCalm Series: Tackling School Seperation

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This past September, I wrote about Bodie’s transition to school coinciding with preparing for his new sibling. It was around the same time I caught up with Allie from Rose & Rex to preview the Calm Mind Kit - their new product to guide parents and kids through sweet, tangible activities around mindfulness and meditation.

Especially for mothers in our Mother Untitled community who may have made shifts in their career to be present at home with their kids for these early years, the transition to school can be daunting and exciting. For Bodie, the biggest shift was not having one on one attention. We found it helpful to leave him in the specific care of one of his teachers instead of leaving him feeling lost in the room. Two months later he’s so confident marching in to find his own place but we still have our mornings, especially with Lyla here now, that we have to do a little more coaxing.

As part of our #cultivatecalm series, we’re drawing on Allie and Rose & Rex's Education Director Lauren's experience with positive parenting, teaching and building the Rose & Rex calm kit to talk through how to use techniques to help through this ongoing transition of separation. You can read more about the series right here.


Why tackle the subject of separation in November? Returning to school after a long weekend or holiday break can feel overwhelming for toddlers. After spending a festive family weekend together, your child may crave more time with you. Routines are often disrupted during the holidays, especially when travel is involved. Exhaustion, paired with physical separation, can hit toddlers hard. And the list goes on…

But how can we best support our young children in maintaining calm when they struggle to say “goodbye”? Here’s what we’ve learned…

Speak positively

Children are constantly looking to us for information, especially when it comes to people and places. Even if you’re experiencing the back-to-real life-blues, continue to speak positively about your child’s school and teachers. Point out activities or personality traits that resonate with your child’s school and teachers. “I just remembered that your classroom has a sand table! I wonder what sand tools are available today.” “You have music class today. What songs do you think your teacher will play?”  

Allow your child to keep a transitional object nearby

As adults, we sometimes forget how much comfort and safety a little piece of home can bring. Transitional objects offer security to children who crave familiarity in new places or uncomfortable situations.

Follow your child’s lead. If she’s having a hard time saying goodbye each morning or is hesitant to leave the house, carrying a small item to school may be helpful. Encourage her to choose something a little more ordinary or simple to replace. It’s certainly challenging for a child to keep track of her one-and-only lovey while going about her school day. (If she’s adamant that Bunny comes along, at least you tried...).

Children benefit from the most common household items: an extra set of Daddy’s keys, an old MetroCard, a ticket stub from a recent zoo or museum outing. Check in with your child’s teacher about any policies that may exist regarding “things from home”. Even if a particular item is not allowed inside the classroom, your child may find comfort in keeping a special photo or transit card tucked safely away in their cubby or backpack.

Always say “goodbye”

It can be tempting to sneak out of the room when your child appears comfortable and fully engaged in an activity. Stepping in to say, “I’m leaving now,” could potentially interrupt your child’s play and result in tears. However, it’s best to be honest with your child about your planned departure, rather than simply disappearing on him.

When well-meaning parents sneak out, children often feel betrayed. They may also develop a fear that the people they love and trust will vanish at any moment.

Always say “goodbye”. Difficult experiences offer us valuable opportunities to learn and grow. You can help your child develop coping strategies by encouraging her to seek out her favorite activities or people prior to your departure. “I see your teacher Emily in the block area. Would you like to build with her after we say ‘goodbye’?”

Just Breathe

Empowering your child to understand that they can regulate their own feelings and emotions is powerful. One of the most effective ways to help a child reduce butterflies when faced with a new environment or routine is to encourage them to breathe.

Believe it or not, deep belly breathing is a skill that needs to be taught, as we often breathe in a shallow way when nervous, which reinforces anxious feelings. When children (or adults for that matter!) take a deep breath from their stomach, they are telling their central nervous system that their body is safe, which turns off the “flight or fight response.”

One of our favorite breathing exercises to #CultivateCalm that we have featured in our Calm Mind Kit is called Waves Breath. To introduce wave breathing we ask children to place an object, like our linen bean bag, on their stomach. We then encourage them to watch the beanbag rise and fall like waves as they breath deeply in and out. Practicing this type of breathing in advance of a stressful situation helps children develop a strategy that they utilize when faced with uncertainty.

Give it time

This final tip is just as much for you as it is for your child! As a family, it can be difficult to re-adapt to routines. You may find yourself thinking, “I can’t believe we’re struggling with separation again. We were in such a nice groove!” Be gentle with yourself and allow the entire family some time to adjust. You may notice changes in your child’s sleeping, eating, or general behavior during this time. She’s working hard to remaster the details of her environment, which can be emotionally and physically exhausting.

If you find yourself stressing about daily responsibilities (like undressed children and unmade lunches), remember that your attitude and energy typically set the tone for your child’s day. Breathe, smile, and accept any help that's offered to you!

Have you used any of these tips in your child’s own journey with school separation? Anything else that worked or did not?

Allie and Lauren join us from Rose & Rex for a three-part series on how to #CultivateCalm and ‘toddlers during transitions.’ For advice on transitioning your toddler for a new sibling, read this.