Managing Separation Anxiety


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A School Advisor to the ISMILE Family of Schools, gives timely advice to parents and caregivers, valuable especially in the first few weeks of school.

Dealing with the first day of school is usually a struggle for most parents (and nannies too!) especially in the younger levels. To help us ease the separation anxiety not only of our children but also of parents and nannies as well, here are some shared tips that we can benefit from:

Say goodbye

Although it is the simplest of the steps, it's also the hardest to do. But do it you must. 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.

Trust your child’s teachers

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 the school 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. Maybe you kiss her chin or tweak her nose. 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

The best way to cope with preschool separation anxiety is to just deal with it. The reality is, that within minutes of their parents' or nanny’s exit, most children happily settle down and forget what all the fuss was about. And within days (sometimes weeks), the tearful goodbyes end. This is something the two of you must work through the right way together.

Try a change

It's a reality of parenthood. Children often behave better for people other than their parents. If there's a relative or friend who is available, let them handle the dropping off for a few days and see if there is a change in your child's behavior.

Bring home to school

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 school with them that reminds them of home — a small stuffed animal or a photo. It just needs to be something they can look at that will conjure up thoughts of you that also offers comfort.

Never let them see you sweat

Don't let your child see that their preschool separation anxiety is getting to you. Of course, this is hard on you, but you must never let your child see that. Smile, talk about how much fun she's going to have in school. Keep your own emotions in check. Children are surprisingly adept at picking up on what we grown-ups are feeling, even if we are trying to hide it.

Don't be late for pick up

No matter who is picking your child up, whether it is you or someone else, make sure you are there on time — early even. If you are late, it can cause your child even more anxiety, and make dropping her off the next time that much harder.

Get the teacher involved

You probably have plenty of questions and could use some wise words from someone who has done this before. Your child's preschool teacher is 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. And while it's tempting to try to corner her during drop-off and/or pick-up time, it's best to wait until she has time to focus solely on you, allowing her to gather her thoughts and prepare herself.

Be prepared for regression

Just when you think you finally have preschool separation anxiety under control, a long comes a school holiday or an illness that keeps your child home for a few days and — tahdah! — it's back again. This is perfectly normal. While upsetting, it's likely just to last a day or two and your child should go back to his cheerful self a drop-off time quickly.

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. Share a story about a time that you may have felt scared or nervous about something and how you dealt with it. Talk about why you want your child to go to preschool and how much fun they are going to have while they were there. 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.

There is no short-cut to get over with the separation anxiety but one thing for sure is that it is a common phrase that every child goes through and then gets over. With the teacher’s support and other adults’ (parents and nannies) full cooperation, this stage and transition time will definitely be a shorter one, and your child will have more productive and happy experiences in school.

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