Photo by Katie Purnell
Even the most independent children will go through a stage (or several stages) of separation anxiety; it usually first surfaces in babies between 10 and 18 months of age. But, preschool is another time it typically flares up. Separation anxiety in preschoolers can occur when kids are dropped off at school because they may not be used to being away from mom for long portions of the day. Here’s some more information.
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a natural part of the maturing process. Parents.com explains it as “a normal developmental stage” that includes “crying, clinging, and throwing tantrums when separated from primary caregivers.”
When your child is a baby, the separation anxiety is happening simply because your child’s brain hasn’t developed enough to understand that Mommy will come back when she leaves the room.
Once your child reaches the age of about 2 though, he or she should have a pretty firm grasp on the fact that Mommy leaves sometimes, but also comes back.
By the time preschool rolls around though, the anxiety is usually easier to deal with because they are old enough to be reasoned with (sort of).
With babies, separation anxiety is a phase that passes, but with preschoolers, there are many strategies you can try to help your child overcome these fears.
The following strategies have been adapted from suggestions at Preschoolers.about.com, but I have added my own observations and teaching experiences.
When I was a Kindergarten teacher, this was the biggest problem when it came to kids crying for Mommy and Daddy. I had a little girl, 5, who would absolutely lose it every day as she got dropped off in the morning. Her mom would stay and look concerned and hug and re-hug and kiss and re-kiss and the whole hysterical episode would stretch out for at least ten minutes every day.
Even when the woman who I was co-teaching with would suggest to the mother that she leave quickly, the mother insisted she stay and comfort. But, sure enough, as soon as mom was out the door, that same little girl was happy-as-could-be, like nothing ever happened.
On the flip side, I had another student who started the year off a little weepy in the beginning, but her dad just kissed her calmly, told her he loved her and left. After only a few days, his daughter was over her anxiety and feeling secure because she fed off of Dad’s calm attitude.
It is very hard to see your preschooler lose it over you leaving, but just remember, they feed off of your emotions. Has your child ever gotten hurt, and before he cries he looks to your face to see if its ok? You have a lot more control than you think you do when it comes to your child’s emotion.
If mom is calm and cool and makes her child feel loved and secure at drop-off, that’s almost the whole battle.
Make up a Special SmartMom Goodbye Ritual
If you haven’t noticed yet, kids love routines. Routines help your child feel secure and calm. So, having a little ritual every time you say good-bye can do wonders. Whether it’s a secret handshake or a special song, or as my daughter and I do, three hugs and three kisses, routines help. Whatever it is, make it your special thing and be consistent in doing it each and every time.
Communicate with Your Child’s Teacher
It’s important that you trust your child’s preschool teacher. If your child is struggling with separation anxiety, ask your teacher if he/she can check in after a few minutes of class with an email or text to let you know if your child calmed down. Unless your child is suffering from a legitimate anxiety disorder (which we will get to later), it is highly unlikely that their I-miss-Mommy-sobs will last more than a few breaths. And, if you trust your child’s teacher and he/she can let you know that your little one is doing just fine as soon as you leave, then you won’t need to worry.
Some children that I taught always cried a little when their parents left, but they also all immediately got over it and got happy as soon as their parents were out the door.
Although separation anxiety is completely normal, there are certain red flags that you’ll want to watch out for that might signal an anxiety disorder that may need to be treated by a child psychiatrist. Talk to your pediatrician if the anxiety is so bad that your child is complaining of headaches or stomachaches, or if your child is having severe sleep disruptions or night terrors.