Separation anxiety is common for young children. For children, it’s caused by the fear of being away from their parents or caregivers. It can be exacerbated by fear of the unknown in a new situation. Children with separation anxiety might cry or cling to their loved ones when being separated from them. Some children become hysterical when their parent is out of sight for a very short time, while other children seem to demonstrate ongoing anxiety at any separation. You may even wonder whether your toddler is ready for preschool.
Again, separation anxiety is a perfectly normal, common part of children’s development. It reflects a strong bond between parent and child and it will pass as children learn they can be safe and happy when parents are away. Here are eight strategies to use to help your preschooler during this new transition:
Learning to cope with sadness is an important learning process for your child. It is important for them to see that you are there for them as they experience temporary unhappiness. Validate their feelings and assure them that you will be back very soon to pick them up. Avoid the temptation to pressure your child not to cry or to offer bribes for “good behavior”.
Children crave routine. By giving your child something they can count on, they are more likely to go to school. Establish a consistent goodbye routine such as a kiss on the forehead, a special hug with loving words such as ‘I love you and will see you soon’, or a secret handshake. Create a special moment between the two of you to start the day.
This can often be one of the most difficult things to do. Giving your child “one more minute” or staying to work on any classroom activities together simply prolongs the inevitable. Do not linger as it can be pure torture for the child to be able to see their parent when they are upset and not be able to be with their parent. As a parent, the best thing you can do is stick to the routine and reassure them that you will be back soon.
Give yourself and your child plenty of time in the morning to get ready for the day. Children often get anxious when rushed, so do your best to give your child extra time in the morning to get ready and arrive at school on time. Arriving late can often spark separation anxiety and can be upsetting to some children to arrive at class after it has already started. Additionally, it is important to be punctual when picking up your child. If you are late, it can cause your child even more anxiety and make dropping her off the next time that much harder.
This may be difficult to do when you do not yet know your child’s Montessori teacher that well, but keep in mind that Montessori preschool teachers have chosen this profession because they love children and they have a wealth of ideas and strategies to help settle a child who is feeling upset. The strategies might involve anything from a nurturing hug, redirection, pairing them up with another Montessori student, or simply keeping the child close until he/she is ready to engage with an activity. Ask your child’s Montessori teacher to step in to help with goodbyes when you give the sign that you are ready to go.
Modeling the appropriate behavior is key to a smooth transition from home to Montessori school, so try very hard to ensure your child does not sense your anxiety. Talk about how much fun Montessori preschool will be and ask about their friends and classmates. Discuss the different works they might want to choose from, reinforce how special their school is and that you cannot wait to hear about their day when you pick them up.
Although you do not have to stay to witness a meltdown, it may be very upsetting for the child when they realize their parent has simply disappeared without saying goodbye. This can also make the next day even more difficult. The best thing you can do is deal directly with the situation so your child will know unequivocally that they can trust you.
Make a point to set up playdates for your child by planning an outing with other families from your child’s Montessori class so your child can make friendships. This in turn makes the transition to the new Montessori environment easier and will create new friendships for you and your entire family.
The beginning of preschool can cause separation anxiety as it’s a time of adjustment. If you need any help, feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher for help. We are here for you!