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    Separation anxiety -- on the part of parents

    Tears and a reluctance to let go aren't the exclusive rights of children on the first day of school.

    By MONIQUE FIELDS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2000


    The first day of school can be tough on parents.

    Their minds fill with questions. Will she like her teacher? Will he get along with the other children? Or, more important, how am I going to deal with a quiet home?

    As school bells rang in Pinellas County on Wednesday, some parents cried as they sent their sons and daughters to school for the very first time.

    "It's the first realization that they will leave you at some point," said Mary Morel, a mother of four, including 5-year-old twins who started kindergarten at Safety Harbor Elementary School on Wednesday. "It's really sad. I cried all (Tuesday)."

    Schools are mindful of the transition and some have scheduled Boohoo Breakfasts to help parents cope. Most children, for their part, took their new independence in stride. They calmly walked into their new classrooms as their parents envisioned their homes without laughter for the next seven hours.

    Some parents turned away and cried.

    "I didn't want him to think something was wrong," said Sharon Finkelstein, mother of 5-year-old Harry. "He went in like this was an everyday thing for him."

    Many parents have mixed feelings about the beginning of school. They may look forward to their children's growth but fear their independence. They may trust their children's teachers but worry about safety and happiness.

    "It's normal separation anxiety," said Patricia Huffman, principal at Belcher Elementary School in Clearwater.

    "It's a change in their lifestyle."

    Enrolling the child in preschool or day care programs can relieve parents' anxiety, said Patricia Merriweather, a member of the public awareness council of the American School Counselor Association.

    It also helps the children adjust to new settings and form relationships with other children, she said.

    Boohoo Breakfasts also help. The Safety Harbor Parent Teacher Association offered cakes and cookies, coffee and tissues to those having trouble leaving their little ones.

    Finkelstein felt better after she shared her concerns with other parents.

    The first day of school is when principals and teachers see the most parents by far. Principals wouldn't have it any other way.

    "It gives the child security that they are able to be open to new experiences," said Jan Johnston, principal at Bauder Elementary School in Seminole.

    Each parent lets go in his own way.

    Denis Thibodeau put his 5-year-old son, Dan, on a bus with his brother Wednesday morning.

    He then followed the bus to Safety Harbor.

    When the bus arrived at school, he walked Dan to class.

    "Just to make him comfortable," Thibodeau said, releasing a heavy sigh. "I want him to be safe and happy."

    It won't be long before the first-year jitters subside.

    Pat Merker, the mother of a fourth-grader and a kindergartener, is a veteran.

    "This is my second time around," Merker said.

    "I'll cry on the last day of school."

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