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  • Sarina Shirazee

Covid-19 and back-to-school anxiety

I’ve recently heard from some teachers and parents in WA that children are experiencing less separation anxiety at school drop off (with parents not permitted past the gate due to Covid-19). It seems to be forcing a short and sweet goodbye, and children are heading off to class without trouble. Of course, we are happy not to see children in distress.⠀

It made me think though - are these kids really feeling okay? If we look beyond the outward behaviour, what are they feeling on the inside? Many kids have just spent weeks at home, and potentially spent more time with their caregivers, and are now being asked to separate from this environment and routine to enter another. There may not be time for them to express their true feelings at the gate, they may be keeping it together to please the adults around them, and may even be melting down when they get home from school. ⠀

So if they’re feeling upset on the inside, but the conditions aren’t there for them to express it, is this a good thing? ⠀

It actually means they’re bottling their feelings up and we’ve missed out on an opportunity to help them regulate. And as you know if you’ve read my posts, we cannot ignore the current evidence and neuroscience that shows that co-regulation needs to come before self-regulation. I think sometimes we are so focused on avoiding uncomfortable feelings, that when we see them, we just want to extinguish them.⠀

So if a child was experiencing separation anxiety before Covid-19 and is now seemingly fine at drop-off, keep an eye on them during the day, and watch out for the after school restraint collapse. Talk to them, comfort them, be there for them.⠀

Lastly, yes, a brief goodbye works well. However, if a child is visibly upset and experiencing separation anxiety, this is not the time for a short and sweet send-off. This is the time for co-regulation. In all circumstances, the ritual and connection between a child and their caregiver during the drop-off process to the classroom, before a full day apart, is so important.⠀

I know it's hard, but please don't be afraid to help children with their difficult emotions. It may be uncomfortable, inconvenient and time-consuming, but it’s vital that children have opportunities to experience different emotional states, and be regulated by an adult within these states. If this doesn't happen repeatedly in the early years, we are sabotaging their ability to regulate themselves in the future. (Let's also remember that separation anxiety is a sign of a healthy attachment between a caregiver and their child). On a final side note, teachers, I am wondering - do you receive training on up-to-date evidence on attachment theory and separation anxiety?


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