It’s a moment no parent looks forward to: the first day of preschool… the crying at drop off… the bawling… the trembling lips… the look of fear and anxiety as a result of separation.
And then there’s your kid to think about, Mom and Dad.
But child separation anxiety isn’t just a punchline to a joke. It’s a very real thing. Unfortunately, there isn’t necessarily an app that can help you or your child cope with the stress of separation, either. It’s an inevitable reality, but it can also be a manageable one. If managed correctly, over time those tears of anxiety can turn into smiles of excitement. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
When is anxiety concerning?
Severe anxiety among preschoolers can have very real indicators, and ones that may have concerning and significant impacts on a child’s daily life. An anxiety disorder can affect a child’s sleeping, eating and cognitive habits. A child who suffers from continued anxiety issues may be prone to frequent tantrums or break into tears for no apparent reason. Child separation anxiety, however, typically goes away in as little as a week. If you notice prolonged incidents of physical fear or discomfort, this could be a sign of a more severe emotional disorder.
It’s normal for a child to have fears of separation about preschool. After all, they’re entering an entirely new environment. A child who is unprepared for this transition can feel confused and intimidated as a result. Children who are going to preschool for the first time are being taken out of their comfort zone. To the developing emotional spectrum of a child, this can be a highly disturbing experience. However, it can also be a cathartic one. Starting a new school can motivate a child and help acclimate him or her to unknown settings and experiences. No, it may not always be pleasant — in fact, the experience will probably be just as terrifying for you as it will be for them. But it represents the first stirrings of a world beyond the confines of Mommy and Daddy. Give young children time to adjust and eventually, that world can be just as exhilarating and inspiring for them as it was for you at their age.
Walk children through what they can expect beforehand
Children will have a lot of questions about what to from preschool… not just about their first day, but about the whole year ahead. What will their teachers be like? What will the other children be like? What sort of activities can they look forward to? You may not always be able to answer these questions, which is why you’ll need to enlist the school for assistance with what your child can expect.
Most preschools and academies encourage your toddler to accompany you during your tour of the facility, and we’re certainly no different at Akers Academy. In our experience, it can definitely help soothe a child’s separation anxiety if they have an opportunity to see the school ahead of time. You can also prepare children in the weeks prior to the start of school by answering their questions. Let children know there’s nothing to be afraid of and that you’ll be back to pick them up at the end of the school day. Try to gradually introduce more unsupervised play-time into their daily activities. You might find that even 20 minutes of relative independence can give your child’s confidence the boost it needs when the big day comes.
There is no such thing as “bad” feelings — just new ones
One of the things we sometimes forget as adults is that fear and uncertainty may be entirely new experiences for a toddler. Even if your own child seems like a reckless daredevil, his or her bravado may take a back seat when separation anxiety rears its head. It’s important to remind young children that it’s ok to feel nervous and uncertain. Remember that it’s ok for your child to experience some fear, as change can always be a little frightening.
You might find it helpful to share an anecdote about your past with your child. Think back to the first time you felt frightened about trying something new. Maybe it was your own first day of preschool, or the first time you rode a bicycle without training wheels. This sort of shared experience doesn’t just help to alleviate your child’s separation anxiety. It helps build a much deeper sense of empathy between you and your child, which can go a long way to building your child’s own sense of security.
Don’t forget to be easy on yourself!
It’s natural for parents to feel overprotective of their children. And it’s natural for us to view their anxiety almost like we would a physical wound. We want the best for our children, and we don’t like to see them afraid. However, too much reassurance doesn’t just smother children… it can stunt their development.
Studies have shown that overprotective parenting has been consistently and significantly linked to both behavior disorders as well as generalized anxiety. The more you fuss over separation anxiety, the more you can actually exacerbate it. This doesn’t mean you should simply drop them off in the middle of a fit and drive away. What it means is not to let your children see you sweat. Children are natural mimics. The more they see you keep a calm and collected state of mind, the more secure they’re likely to be.
Even if you’re crying on the inside, too.
Parenting is stressful enough. Your child’s separation anxiety shouldn’t add to your stress. With two different locations in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area, Akers Academy emphasizes independence just as much as we focus on your child’s development. Check out more of our Parent Resources for more information and visit Akers Academy.