Separation Anxiety Defined:
“A child’s apprehension or fear associated with his or her separation from a parent or other significant person”.
This is the definition of separation anxiety from The American Heritage Stedman’s Medical Dictionary.
It is the fear of the unknown. In preschool, there are many unknowns for children because so many things are new. And new=unknown!
- They are in a new building, facility, and environment.
- They are around other children they have not met before or have not seen for several weeks or months (such as during winter breaks, holidays or summer break).
- They are around adult strangers i.e. adults other than their parents or primary caregivers.
- They are in a large group for the very first time in their lives.
You’ve done all the research and picked out the perfect preschool for your child. Last night, you made sure your little one got to bed early so he’d wake up ready to go. A backpack stuffed with supplies like crayons, paper, and glue sticks are waiting by the front door. That all-important first-day-of-school outfit is hanging in the closet, and the snack you’ve made to share with the class is wrapped and ready to go.
But dropping off your little one at preschool with a pit in your stomach, knowing what’s coming next is the stuff broken hearts are made of. Your preschooler working himself into a fit, kicking, screaming and crying, not wanting you to leave him alone in this strange place. Preschool separation anxiety — you know it can’t go on forever, but it sure feels like it lasts a lifetime and it can be hard on parents and kids alike.
The good news is that there is an end in sight!!!
Employ these strategies to get rid of preschool separation anxiety, help your child relax and, believe it or not, learn to look forward to going to preschool every day.
- Say goodbye: The simplest of the steps, it’s also the hardest to do. But do it you must. Give your child a hug and a kiss, tell him you’ll be back soon and then walk out the door. Don’t delay, don’t give him “one more minute,” don’t linger, hoping that he’ll miraculously start smiling and laughing, happy to go and play with his preschool chums.
- Trust your child’s teacher: Preschool teachers, even newly-minted ones, know kids. They’ve done this before and have many ways and methods in their bag of tricks to help calm your little one down. From redirecting to a new activity to simply giving your child a hug and offering comfort, preschool teachers are masters at knowing what works and what doesn’t when it comes to making kids happy.
- Establish a good-bye routine: Preschoolers crave routine. By giving your child something he can count on, he’s likely to go to preschool that much more willingly. So, come up with a couple of things that you do each time you say goodbye. Maybe it’s a secret handshake or a special high-five. Whatever it is, make it something special between the two of you and make sure you do it every single time.
- Confront the problem head-on: Bribing your child to stay in preschool may work — temporarily. Sneaking out might make you feel better because you don’t have to witness a meltdown. But the best way to cope with preschool separation anxiety is to just deal with it. The reality is, that within minutes of their parents’ exit, most kids happily settle down and forget what all the fuss was about.
- Try a change: It’s a reality of parenthood. Kids often behave better for people other than their parents. If there’s a relative, friend or neighbor that’s game, let them handle the dropping off for a few days and see if there is a change in your child’s behavior.
- Enlist the help of home: The most important message to send your child is that you love them very much and that you are thinking of them often. Together, pick out something that your child can bring to preschool with them that reminds them of home — a small stuffed animal, a photo, even a smiley face drawn on their hand.
- Never let them see you sweat: As parents, we don’t realize just how intuitive our children are, no matter how old they might be. They love and trust us, and they can sense when we feel uneasy about a situation. Showing our children that we believe that they are going to be OK, have a positive experience, and feel confident that this is the right place for them, will often be the driving factor in how quickly a child adjusts to preschool or any new experience we expose them too.
- Consistency: When a child is kept on a regular schedule and can anticipate what is happening they feel more secure and comfortable. It is imperative that your child attends the preschool regularly and try to keep things that might disrupt that consistency to a minimum by trying to schedule doctor appointments after school, or doing special things on the weekend instead of on a school day.
- Don’t be late for pick up: It’s easy to lose track of time when you have a few hours to yourself, whether you are running errands, working or simply taking some time to relax. But no matter who is picking your child up, whether it is you or someone else, make sure you are there on time — early even.
- Get the teacher involved: Your child’s preschool teacheris likely an expert in preschool separation anxiety and probably has a lot to offer in terms of dealing with your child specifically. Make an appointment when you can talk to her, if possible without your child present.
- Be prepared for regression: Just when you think you finally have preschool separation anxiety under control, along comes a preschool vacation or an illness that keeps your child home for a few days and — it’s back again. While upsetting, it’s likely just to last a day or two and your child should go back to his cheerful self at drop-off time quickly.
- Give your child something to look forward to: Most preschoolers aren’t thrilled with the idea of being left in a roomful of people they don’t know. If it’s possible, put some friendly faces in the crowd by scheduling playdates with some of your child’s classmates.
- Be honest: Talk to your child about what they are feeling and why. Ask them what makes them so upset about you dropping them off at preschool. Don’t minimize their fears or concerns — address them while assuring them that you will always be there to pick them up once school is over for the day.
- Help your child do his homework: Before preschool even starts, talk to your child about the whole process, do site visits, go on bus rides and even read a few books about what preschool will be like and what he will do there. Knowledge is power and the more information your child has, the more empowered he’s likely to feel.
- Books: Parents can read the following books at home with their preschooler:
Don’t Go! by Jane Balkin Zalban
My First Day at Nursery School by Becky Edwards
First Day Jitters (Mrs. Hartwell’s Class Adventures) by Julie Danneberg
I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas
Will I Have a Friend? by Mariam Cohen
- Don’t drag out saying goodbye and don’t sneak out either. Keep it simple — one kiss, one hug and out the door you head. And never bring your child home with you.
- Keep your own emotions in check. Kids are surprisingly adept at picking up on what we grown-ups are feeling, even if we are trying to hide it.
- Discuss what is going on with your child’s teacher, but not during drop-off or pick-up time. Make an appointment to discuss the matter privately.
- See if you can get another relative or friend to bring your child to preschool to see if a change in routine makes a difference.
- Be prepared for your child to regress a bit after vacations, after he’s been out sick or if something eventful is going on at home, like the birth of a sibling.
By Ritika Singla
Little Diamond Nursery