6 Ways to Help Ease Your Child’s Preschool Separation Anxiety
Starting preschool is a big milestone for your little one. It marks the beginning of their formal education, a process that’s likely to span multiple decades. When your child enters the doors of their new school on the first day, they will meet future friends and find themselves immersed in a wide range of learning experiences.
This monumental change in routine and daily schedule can cause your child to feel some very normal preschool separation anxiety. What is separation anxiety, exactly? It is when a child becomes nervous when separated from their primary caregiver, and is very common for toddlers. Some of the signs of separation anxiety in toddlers are clinging when they sense their caregiver is leaving, temper tantrums, and resisting new interactions or experiences.
Luckily, there are a few things you can do to help reduce separation anxiety in toddlers, and get your little one prepared for preschool. Here are some tips to help toddlers with separation anxiety:
Practice Brief Separations
Start with brief separations well before the first day of school approaches. This not only helps to give you an idea of your toddler’s level of separation anxiety, but it also helps them get used to being apart. Try stepping out of the room and announcing when you return. As your child becomes more comfortable with brief separations, try leaving them with a family member or babysitter for small periods of time. This helps them practice being away from you and seeing you come back home, which can reduce their separation anxiety. A group play date with limited adult intervention might be the best practice for preschool.
Plan a Visit Before School Starts
If you suspect your child will display signs of separation anxiety, arrange a preschool visit and meeting with teachers before school starts. This way they’ll know who will be greeting them in the morning, and they will be more comfortable in the building and classroom.
Make Sure Your Child Can See You Leave
Tell your child goodbye and make your exit without sneaking out of the room. Sneaking out may cause them more separation anxiety because they won’t know whether you’re still in the building or not. Make a quick, positive goodbye to let them know you are excited for them to have fun at school.
No False Promises
If you know you won’t be back to pick up your child for a few hours, don’t tell them you will check in thirty minutes afterward or wait outside in the car. Being truthful will help build trust between you and your little one, so they can know when to expect you after preschool.
Don’t Sweat Regression
Your child may be absolutely fine separating from you one week and then have a meltdown the next. Or, they may regress on something at home such as refusing to put on their own clothes or having an accident after they’ve already been potty trained. Occasional regression can happen with separation anxiety, especially when young children are exposed to a lot of change at once and they should adjust over time. If your child has these regressive slips constantly, it is best to talk with their teacher or pediatrician.
Get Advice From the Teacher
Teachers are child experts. Your child’s teacher may offer them a hug and be extra comforting if they’re aware of separation anxiety over parents leaving. They may also have ideas for helping your toddler cope like giving them a job in the morning to keep them distracted, i.e. passing out toys or supplies. Don’t hesitate about scheduling an appointment to talk to them about strategies for helping your little one with the separation.
Every child reacts to separation differently. While some toddlers show their separation anxiety in the classroom, others may express it at home. Recognizing the signs of separation anxiety and helping your child adjust will allow them to become more comfortable in the classroom, and it is great preparation for the transitions they will have in the following years.