It’s quite common for both parents and children to be nervous about attending pre-school for the first time. Usually, for parents, the concern is mostly about how will your child react to being separated from Mom or Dad. Afterall, it’s normal to want to ease your child’s anxiety when they’re uncomfortable or afraid. But understanding that separation anxiety is normal for very young children makes it easier for adults to handle their distress.
For children, especially in toddlers and pre-schoolers, their response is more emotional and it is more difficult to help them understand that leaving your side can be a positive experience. Indeed, at this age they are better at reading the signs of your own reluctance to leave them and know what “behaviors” to employ to get you to stay. For example, crying, clinginess, temper tantrums, pushing others away, and actually trying to stop a parent or caregiver from leaving are typical responses.
There are however several things you can do to help mitigate your child’s separation anxiety. Start with visiting their school before it begins. Help your child get familiar with the new surroundings, meet their teacher and meet some of their soon-to-be classmates.
At home, role-play about what might happen. (Think of some of the possible questions and your answers ahead of time.) And, read books with your child about going to school like: Arthur Goes to School, Kindergarten Kids, The Kissing Hand, Owl Babies and the Help Your Dragon book series by Steve Herman. These activities will help your son or daughter look forward to the experience versus concentrating on being away from you.
When you do take your son or daughter to school the first few days, keep your goodbye ritual as short as possible. Be warm, sweet and loving….but firm. Give your child a hug and kiss goodbye. Let your child know how much you love and miss them and look forward to seeing them later. And be specific about when you’ll be back. Show them on your watch or the school clock when that will be. Once you say goodbye, avoid returning for additional goodbyes, even if they cry or exhibit some other behavior. This creates confusion and can make it more difficult for children to settle into the school routine. Trust that the teacher knows how to handle this situation in a compassionate manner.
For some children, you can ease separation anxiety by allowing your child to bring a picture, blanket or other form of comfort from home. Their dependence on these emotional crutches will lesson quickly as your child learns to trust their teacher and classmates. As they experience fun and social relationships in a secure environment, typically separation anxiety diminishes as does their dependence on others for emotional stability.
And that’s one of the key benefits of early childhood education: nurturing your child’s independence and emotional well-being. Combined with learning and intellectual development, these are the pillars for growth every parent craves for their son or daughter.