3 Ways to Decrease Separation Anxiety in Nursery School
I’ve often heard it said that the job of being a parent is to spend 18 (or more) years raising a child so they don’t need you anymore. It’s the most selfless job in the world especially when you think about it that way. This could not be more evident than during morning drop-off. As a new mom my heart breaks every time I see a little one cling to his or her mom, tears streaming down their face, as they walk into school.
Trust me: I get it. My son Bradley is just a year old and at almost 4 months old had to begin daycare so I could return to work full time. The night before his first day I laid in bed with my arms pinned to my side in an attempt to stop myself from shaking. Tears streamed down my face as every irrational fear imaginable ran through my mind: Would he forget who I was? Would he think his caregiver was his mommy? Would she know to feed him like I do? Would he cry all day? I now know these are normal feelings and that by 10 a.m. his first day I had calmed down enough to actually get some work done.
The beauty of knowing you found a good school is that even though there may be some mornings, especially in the beginning, where there are tears, there are just as many teary-eyed afternoons because your child doesn’t want to leave his or her friends. As an admissions director it is not uncommon to see families on a three, half-day schedule increasing to 5, half-days or even some full days before the holidays. This is a normal progression and a healthy sign that your child is thriving at school and desires more stimulation and development.
Here are our top 3 recommendations to help ease separation anxiety for your child:
- Keep a consistent schedule: most of our youngest learners start out with a part-time schedule only to see it increase after a few weeks. We think it is best to send your child consecutive days in a row and without too many days in between so they can acclimate to their new schedule. Children who suffer from separation anxiety typically do well once settled in for the day, but have the hardest time during transitions.
- Be positive about school: If you are stressed about school your child will sense your tension and internalize it. This was a valuable lesson I had to learn early on with my own son involving eating. He did not have a big appetite early on and with newborns all parents are stressed about proper weight gain and development. So naturally when my son would arch his back, pull off the bottle, and proceed to spray milk all over both of us, I was a little tense. But with some patience and commitment, I learned to stay clam during his feedings and ultimately he relaxed and was able to eat when he was ready. The exact same is true for morning drop off: if you stay calm and positive, your child will feed off of your positive energy and likewise be excited and happy to go to school.
- Separate quickly: Nothing hurts the transition into school more than the lingering parent. We know you mean well; you want to make sure little Johnny or Sally is settled in. But the last thing your child needs is to keep looking over his or her shoulder for you. When you arrive at the door to the school or the classroom (depending on if you choose to walk your child in each morning), give your child a hug and kiss, say “Have a great day and I’ll see you later”, and hand-off any lunch boxes or backpacks to your child’s teacher and leave. This will be harder for you than it is for your child, trust me.
Remember that separation anxiety often originates with the parents. If you are projecting negative feelings about school, so will your child. Leaving our babies is definitely on the top 5 list of hardest things you have to do as a parent, but remember, the experience they are getting at school will benefit them enormously both educationally and socially. So feel good about your decision to enroll in a preschool or prekindergarten program. With the right structure and consistency, you and your child will enjoy the experience of embarking on their lifelong educational journey.