Helping Your Child Get Through Parent Separations

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By: Angy Talbot (ECFE Blog Writer/School Readiness Instructor)

When my daughter first started daycare as a toddler she suffered with separation anxiety. I remember each day dropping her off and she would cry and look at me with bewildered eyes. As soon as we got into the car each morning, the lower lip would drop and I could see the anxiety in her face as we drove to child- care. I dreaded each morning because I knew she would be sad when I left and sometimes would cry or pull on my leg; it broke my heart! This went on for over a month. Finally, my daughter made a new friend and looked forward to playing with her. She also started to have fun making art projects, playing on the playground and being with other children her age at daycare. We finally came to the day when I would drop her off, give her a hug, walk to the door and say good-bye without tears (from either of us). I remember how hopeless I felt until we came up with some strategies for her separation anxiety with her teacher that truly helped. One thing I also learned was that it helped to have a “Good-bye Routine” that was expected each day, which made it much easier for us both to separate. I must admit, it was hard for me to say good-bye too, but when she saw my happy face and enthusiasm at each drop-off, she began to smile as well!

Separation Anxiety in young children is a normal stage of development. One thing to keep in mind is that separation anxiety is also a good sign that healthy attachment has been developed between child and caregiver. It is important for children to realize that even when their parent separates from them, that they will return. Separation is a great time to develop coping strategies and independence.

Listed below are a few tips that can help you and your child at times of separations (especially the first day of school):

  • Role-play with your child what will happen at drop off time. Practice pretending to walk to the door, give each other a hug and wave good-bye. Make a good-bye routine and practice it with your child. Then when you need to separate, follow the same routine you practiced together. End with a special ritual whether it is a giving a high-five or hug, before you exit (never sneak away).
  • Practice separating from your child by having a caregiver watch your child for a few hours or plan a play date.
  • Read stories to your child about school and separation from parents. My daughter’s favorite book was, I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas

Other Helpful Books:

What to Expect at Preschool (What to Expect Kids) by Heidi Murkoff

Preschool Day Hooray! by Linda Leopold Strauss

Maisy Goes to Preschool: A Maisy First Experience by Lucy Cousins

Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

  • Make good-byes short and sweet. It never helps your child if you linger. Even if they begin to cry, do your last good-bye ritual, smile and tell your child you’ll be back, and head out the door. Always keep a brave face, and if you need to cry do it when you’re out of sight of your child (I did this for months!). Keep in mind, your child is fine and there are teachers and other children that are with him/her.
  • Make sure to get up a little extra early the morning of the first day, so no one feels rushed!  The mornings we are not rushed tends to make for a better drop off.
  • Make sure that your child is getting enough sleep and is going to bed at the same time each night.
  • Take pictures of the school, classroom, teachers, and make a little book just for your child.
  • Learn the teachers’ names and something about them to tell your child.
  • Drive by the school/daycare and point out, “There’s your new school!”
  • Meet the teachers and have a tour of the classroom before school starts (often schools will have an Open House). Show your child where you will be dropping off and where you will be saying good-bye. Let your child explore their new room making sure they know where their belongings go and where the bathroom is.
  • Have conversations about the kinds of things they will do at preschool or daycare (playing on the playground, playing with new friends, doing art projects, playing with blocks, etc.) and ask your child if they have any questions about school/childcare.
  • Go Shopping for school supplies with your child. Let them pick out their own backpack or folders. Make it a fun excursion just to get ready for school
  • The night before the big day, have all items laid out with their outfit and all school supplies needed. Let your child help too. They’ll enjoy picking out what they would like to wear.
  • Putting comfort items in your child’s backpack will help if they start to feel homesick. If it is a necklace they can wear, a picture of their family taped in their folder, or a special teddy bear can help children feel less anxious.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate with your child at pick-up time! Tell your child how proud you are of them!

It will generally take a few weeks before your child fully adjusts to a new school or childcare. Keep your morning routine consistent and your good-byes short, and your child will ultimately separate without tears or struggle and this will also build your child’s confidence.

Listed below are some other websites for more strategies on separation anxiety for young children:

http://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/e-family-news/2013-tips-for-reducing-separation-anxiety-in-young-children/

http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/starting-preschool/separation-anxiety/dealing-with-separation-anxiety/

http://moms.popsugar.com/5-Tips-Easing-Your-Baby-Separation-Anxiety-27330657

http://www.ahaparenting.com/ages-stages/toddlers/helping-your-toddler-with-separation-anxiety

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