Separation Anxiety – How to Help Preschoolers Overcome Separation

Separation Anxiety

When many children go to daycare, preschool, or kindergarten for the first time, they have a hard time saying goodbye to mom and dad. While it may begin during infancy, it’s more common with toddlers and preschoolers. This type of separation anxiety is a normal part of growing up, but with a little extra effort, you can help your child overcome her fears so that the morning drop-off is easier on both of you. 

Keep Your Own Emotions In Check

When your child is anxious or upset, she’s going to look to you for a response. If you are crying, seem unsure, or are anxious yourself, it’s just going to amplify her emotions. Prepare yourself to stay neutral during drop-off time. Cry when you get back to the car if you must. If you’re having a hard time keeping your own emotions in check, look for support within your own social circles, particularly from friends, relatives, and neighbors who also have small children.

Make Goodbyes Quick and Consistent

Something that can help both you and your child is a quick and consistent goodbye. This doesn’t mean dropping your child at the door without a word, but you don’t want to linger either. Not only will this help her get over her emotions quickly, but it can prevent you from allowing your own anxiety from spilling out before you leave. Say hello to the teacher, hand over your child’s bag, and swoop down to say goodbye. Try to get the routine down to less than a minute and do the same thing each day. 

Make Goodbyes Special, But Don’t Over Do It

One thing you can do to ensure a speedy and consistent goodbye is to create your own ritual. Maybe it’s a hug and silly saying, a handshake, or a kiss on each cheek. Practice it at home the night before so your child will be excited about doing it at school or daycare the next day. Just be sure that whatever you choose doesn’t go overboard. Too many over-the-top gestures or long conversations only lengthen the goodbye and make it harder on both of you.

Stick To A Routine

Kids love routine, and the more you stick to one, the easier it is for them to handle. From the moment the two of you wake up in the morning to the moment you say goodbye for the day, stick to the same schedule. Knowing what’s coming up next eases your child’s mind so that she doesn’t have so much anxiety about the rest of the day. It may take a few days to get into a routine, but the sooner you can start it, the better. 

Talk About The Day Ahead

At night before bed or first thing in the morning, going over the day’s routine with your child. Explain to her that you’re going to brush her teeth, help her get dressed, fix her breakfast, and take her to school. Tell her what’s going to happen once you get there. For example, “We’re going to see Mrs. Smith, put your bag in your cubby hole, and do our special handshake.” Finally, tell her when you’ll be back, such as during playground time or after snack time. This will reassure her that you will be back.

Practice Being Apart

Before your child starts daycare or preschool, or even after if you’re still having problems with separation anxiety, try spending some time apart. Have a grandparent or babysitter come over while you’re at the grocery store, or let your little one go to a friend or cousin’s house to play for a few hours. The more practice you get, the more likely she is adjust to drop-off time. 

Make New Places Feel Familiar

If possible, visit the school or daycare before the first day and get to know the teachers, classrooms, and the facility. If you’re allowed, spend some time coloring or playing with your child in her classroom so that she becomes familiar with the space. If this is not an option, allow her to bring items from home as long as they are approved by the facility. This might include a special stuffed animal, a favorite cup, or even a family picture to keep in her pocket. 

Be Strong

Saying goodbye for a few hours can be just as tough on parents as it is on their preschoolers. However, in order for your child to adjust, you have to stay strong. Lingering, sticking around, coming back after you’ve left, or showing just how upset you are won’t help the situation and may even make it worse. Keeping your child at home or giving in to her demands are also bad ideas. It may take some time, but once your child gets past this stage of separation anxiety, you’ll both be glad you toughed it out.

 

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