Separation anxiety in preschoolers tends to occur at the beginning of a new school year, but did you know it can actually happen at any time? Sometimes, getting sick can trigger some anxiety, or a big change at home can cause your little one to feel uneasy. And sometimes, it can surface for no identifiable reason.
It hurts to see your child fearful and in tears, and it’s difficult to know what to do. While not every child experiences separation anxiety, it’s a good idea to know what to expect and how to help.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
Babies, toddlers and preschoolers have tight attachments to their caregivers, often believing their survival depends on having their caregiver close by. Very young children also don’t understand the concept of time, so it can be difficult to have confidence that Mom or Dad will ever return.
So when your preschooler cries, whines, gets angry, or becomes defiant at preschool drop-off, it isn’t a sign of naughtiness. It’s a manifestation of a very real fear about what’s to come when she is separated from you.
What Parents Can Do
Separation anxiety isn’t a sign that you’ve done anything wrong. It actually indicates that you and your child have a healthy attachment. So don’t start the blame game. If your preschooler is experiencing separation anxiety, it’s perfectly normal. You can ease the situation with these tips.
Your child’s feelings are real, and he deserves to be validated. Using simple language, talk to him about his feelings. “You felt worried when I dropped you off this morning, didn’t you?” Give him a chance to tell you how he felt, and accept his feelings as valid. Don’t try and talk him out of what he feels.
Once he has expressed his feelings, let him know you love him and you will always return to pick him up.
Don’t Sneak Away
If your preschool requires you to walk your child into class each day, don’t sneak away while she’s occupied! This will only increase the anxiety, as she’ll struggle to trust you’ll be there when you say you will.
Set Up a Routine
Follow the same routine each morning before preschool drop-off to give your child a sense of security. When he knows what’s coming next, he can prepare himself. A chaotic morning may leave him feeling uneasy and more clingy.
As part of your routine, create a short goodbye ritual that can provide comfort each day. It could be as simple as a high five or a “See you later, alligator.” Make it fun and lighthearted, and do it every day.
Be Honest with Yourself
Do you have mixed emotions about your child growing up or building independence? Try to make sure you’re resolving those emotions so that you aren’t sharing them with your child. It’s perfectly natural to feel some uneasiness with your child’s increasing independence, but it’s up to you to corral those emotions. Talk with a friend or partner, or journal your feelings so that you have the chance for validation while still allowing your child freedom to enjoy.
How Preschool Teachers Can Help with Separation Anxiety
Teachers play a crucial role in your child’s success with overcoming separation anxiety. A good preschool will have a staff that is aware of and prepared for children who may be experiencing these types of anxieties.
If your child is experiencing separation anxiety, you and the teachers should have open communication about progress, setbacks, and plans. The teachers may have suggestions for you to try at home or on the way to school.
Just as parents should validate the feelings of their child, preschool teachers should be careful to do the same. A good preschool teacher will not try to talk a child out of their feelings, but will listen and soothe your child.
Follow a Schedule
It’s important for children to know what’s happening next. This puts them at ease and allows them to relax and enjoy their current activity. Preschool teachers can follow the same schedule each day, with visual and verbal reminders of what’s coming next.
At UDA Creative Arts Preschool, we understand separation anxiety, and are prepared to help your child if it pops up. We also have systems in place to minimize anxiety, like a preschool drop-off in which we pick up your child from your car at the curb, a routine schedule, a small student-to-teacher ratio, and a positive and uplifting atmosphere. We love our students and are always willing to help them with anything that may be challenging them.
To see us in action, schedule a tour by calling us at (801) 523-5930, or by contacting us online.