Going to School for the First Time
  By Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

 Picture this: Little Alex is due for school today for the first time in his life.  He has little idea what that involves.  He puts up a brave face, but you can occasionally see signs of discomfort such as, pouting or quivering of the throat and jerky breath like he may sob any time.  Alex is not too far from crying, but he's trying to go along with the process.   

Uncertain of what is to follow, John drags his feet while walking to the classroom.  Soon after his mother is out of sight, John breaks into uncontrollable sobs, complains of nausea, and wants his mother.  The teacher calls his mother on the phone.  The first day of school ends abruptly for John and his parents.  

The following day, Alex complains of stomach ache in the morning, dawdles while getting dressed, and cries when he gets into the car.  When they approach school he cries again.  When mother tries to leave him in the class, he cries louder and grabs hold of her dress.  She tearfully extricates herself from his grip and hurriedly leaves.  

I presented this scenario to the Living 201 Class the other day and asked for suggestions as to how parents can help John overcome his anxiety regarding separation from mother which was exacerbated in a new and unfamiliar setting, the school.  

The class was immediately in agreement that John should be rewarded for playing or working independently from his mother.  
The students of the class suggested that John be gradually "trained" to play or work farther and farther away from the mother, and gradually trained to spend more time away from the mother.  Thus, a gradual and incremental plan to help John tolerate being away from parents for longer periods will make him more "school ready."  The scenario I presented to the class indicated that John may have reached the required age for school but he was still not ready for school.  

The class further suggested that John's parents should prepare a "reward menu" for John that lists such rewards as small food treats, toys, or special activities which can be disbursed to John as he makes progress in tolerating farther distance and time away from his parents.  John should be rewarded only when he doesn't cry or run to his mother while working or playing on his own. 

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