Starting Preschool: Five Ways To Help Your Child Cope With Separation Anxiety
Starting preschool can be a rollercoaster of emotions for both parents and children, though the specific concerns are likely to be quite different.
According to Meir Muller who holds a PhD in early childhood education and is a professor at the University of South Carolina, it is natural for young children to experience separation anxiety when starting school. A child’s response to separation is often unique to personality and temperament, so while some children easily accommodate to new situations while other children do not.
However, taking steps to prepare children can help them with saying goodbye. Here are some suggestions to ease your child’s anxiety which will work to help you too:
When you’re dropping your child off at school, be calm and confident. Remember that your child is going to pick up the same feelings you have. If you’re able to exude a sense of calm, it will help your little one understand that everything is alright and there’s nothing to worry about.
Be lovingly firm
It can be tempting to scold your child when s/he is throwing a tantrum, but it’s only going to make the situation worse. Try to keep in mind that separation anxiety comes from children’s fear that you’re not coming back. S/he’s terrified that you’re going away forever so yelling or shaming her will only make her feel less secure. Instead, hug, give a kiss and assure your child that you will be back soon. Once you say goodbye, avoid returning for additional goodbyes. This creates confusion and can make it more difficult for children to settle into the school routine.
Stories are a great way to communicate your feelings
Read books about going to school such as Arthur Goes to School, Kindergarten Kids, and Owl Babies. Our all-time favourite is The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. It is about a little racoon who doesn’t want to go to school because he’ll miss his mommy. Momma Raccoon sweetly kisses his hand and tells him the kiss will be there whenever he’s sad or scared at school. Reading this story to your child and giving them a “kissing hand” before you leave can help her to be brave like the little racoon in this story.
Always follow through
One of the most important things you can do for your child is to follow through on any promises you make to them. Keeping promises to your children reassure them that they are important for you. The trick here is to establish trust in your child. Credibility is key, so if you say you will pick your child up at 4 pm and take them to the mall, make sure to do exactly that!
Consistency, patience and love are key
Children can work through this stage with family and school support. Stay firm and gentle during separation anxiety meltdowns—it’s a difficult phase that many children deal with, but with clear guidance, you’ll soon be able to leave a happy and secure child. Often, it can take around fifteen school days for a child to fully settle into a new routine.
Bear in mind that these suggestions may not entirely alleviate separation anxiety in your child, but they will help the child better work through and cope with their emotions. Being able to manage our feelings is a crucial life skill. Let’s celebrate all of our children’s emotions and strive to help them manage them in a positive and supporting way.
As early childhood educator and blogger Janet Lansbury has wisely said:
“In my world, there are no bad kids,
Just impressionable conflicted young people
Wrestling with emotions and impulses,
Trying to communicate their feelings and needs
The only way they know how.”
Celebrate your child!