Separation Anxiety is a very common issue with children who are starting preschool. For most children, it is a normal part of development. In my 12 years as a preschool teacher, I have worked with dozens of children who have experienced varying degrees of separation anxiety. I can assure you that it is almost always harder on the parents than it is on the children. I promise!
Here are a few tried and true strategies for easing separation anxiety. Start working with your child now, and September will be a breeze.
Before preschool starts:
- Read lots of books about going to school. Some of our favorites are listed at the bottom of this page.
- Talk very positively with your child about school. Say things like, “You are going to have so much fun at school” and “You are so lucky to get to go to preschool now that you’re a big kid.”
- Make sure your child is familiar with his teacher and knows her name. If possible, schedule a time for your child to visit the classroom and meet the teacher. Use the teacher’s name at home in everyday conversation, so that she is not a stranger to your child on the first day.
- Try to arrange a play date with a child who will be in the same preschool class. Meet at the park or invite the friend to your house for an hour to play.
- Drive by the school occasionally and point it out to your child. “Look! That’s where you get to go to school soon. It’s going to be so much fun.”
- Practice giving your child some space. If he has a close friend, arrange to drop him off for a short play date (and then offer to reciprocate). If your gym or rec center has a child care, drop him off for short periods of time.
- Be positive! Even if you are planning to have a little separation anxiety yourself, your child needs you to pretend that you are 100% happy about the first day of school. Your child will copy your emotions.
On the Big Day:
- Wake up with a smile and lots more positive talk.
- If your child expresses concern about going, talk through the emotions. Make sure your child knows that you will be back to pick him up, and that if he needs anything during school his teachers will be there to take care of him.
- When you talk to other parents or to the teacher about your child, stay positive. The worst thing you can do is let your child overhear you say, “Timmy is so nervous about preschool” or “Timmy is going to cry when I leave.” If you say it, it will happen. So stay positive.
- Ask your child’s teacher about the first-day drop-off policies. At our preschool, we invite the parent to come in with the child on the first day or two and get him settled into an activity before leaving.
- Ask also, what is the school’s policy for dealing with children who are crying. Do they have a special quiet space for them to calm down in? Are there extra adults or administrators there on the first day to lend a hand? How long do they let the child cry before calling the parent?
- Say goodbye to your child before leaving. Don’t sneak out. Once you say goodbye, leave (with a smile plastered to your face)! Do not show your nerves.
After the Drop Off:
- Take a deep breath! You did it.
- If your child was crying when you left, remember the school’s policy. At our small preschool, we will text the parents to let them know when the child has calmed down. Some schools might call the parents only if they cannot get the child to calm down. If that is the case, then no news is good news.
- Most importantly — No turning back! Do not go back in to check on your child, or to make sure he has stopped crying. Doing so is the absolute best way to get your child to cry (again). Trust that your child and his teacher are going to be okay!
- When it is time to pick up your child, be on time and have a smile ready to greet him.
- Ask about his day: “What was your favorite toy?” “What is the name of 1 friend at school?” “Did you sing any songs?” If he expresses sadness or anger, be sure to respond with understanding. For example, “I know that school is a big change, but you can do it because you are a big kid now!” Avoid verbalizing anything negative about preschool. Don’t say, “I know you don’t like it, but you have to go.”
- Repeat the steps above, and stay positive!
Separation anxiety usually only lasts a day or two. In some cases, the child may cry for the first few weeks or even for the first month. Don’t despair! Touch base with your child’s teacher, and stay positive. This, too, shall pass.
Here are affiliate links to some of our favorite books. They are a great way to prepare your child for preschool.
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Jamie, this is great!! I have been teaching at Joyfully His Preschool for the past three years. Can I please share this post with my preschool families?
Jamie White, M.Ed.
Yes, of course. Thanks for asking.