Making Drop-off Time a Tear-Free Time: Overcoming Separation Anxiety
On the first day of preschool, the parents are often just as anxious as the preschoolers. As exciting as the beginning of a new school year can be, the separation process can be difficult when mom or dad says “goodbye” to their little one. Young children at this age may hug mom’s leg tightly, grip dad’s waist, and refuse to let go, or cry. While drop-off time may seem like the most difficult time of the day, there are some things parents can do to make this transition smoother for everyone.
The anxieties a child may feel at drop-off time are completely normal, and so are the anxieties that the parent feels. There are many positive and peaceful ways to say goodbye at school that will help build a child’s confidence. Here are some things parents can try to ensure a stress-free, tear-free goodbye:
- Be an Early Bird. One way to ease the transition is to arrive at school 15 minutes early to give preschoolers ample time to adjust to the transition and say goodbye. Plan ahead and make sure you have enough time in those first weeks for a special goodbye. At drop-off time, take the time to focus your attention on your child. This can help children relax and ease their anxieties about separating.
- Develop a Routine. It’s important for parents to develop and maintain a consistent morning routine, including a consistent drop-off routine at school. Because young children cannot tell time and are learning to recall day-to-day events, their sense of security comes from predictable routines. Knowing what to expect next gives them confidence. Waking up at the same time each morning, doing the same things to get ready for school and saying goodbye in the same way each day at school will provide much-needed consistency. Something as simple as establishing a consistent routine can set children up for an easier home-to-school transition.
- Talk with Your Child. When saying goodbye, let your child know you are leaving. Slipping away unnoticed makes children more anxious because suddenly they can’t find you. Verbalize every action to your child. Let your child know you are leaving and that you will be picking him or her up at a certain time. For example, you might say, “I’m going to leave in five minutes and go to work. I’ll come back and pick you up after you’ve eaten lunch.” Talk your child through the posted classroom schedule for the day so he or she knows what to expect. You might say, “This morning you will paint and build with blocks. Later, you will sing songs and read a book with your teacher. After that, you will play outside on the playground and then get ready for lunch.” Parents should also remember to speak to children about separation anxiety in a positive and upbeat manner. For example, avoid saying things like, “Big boys don’t cry at school.” Instead, you might say, “I know you’re sad to see me leave. I will miss you too and will pick you up after you have outdoor playtime this afternoon.” Children show emotion through crying, and it’s normal for them to do so. Acknowledging their emotions is an important part of helping them cope with separation anxiety.
- Read to Your Child. In addition to talking with your child about preschool, reading with your child about preschool can be just as important. Books such as Llama, Llama Misses Mama (by Anna Dewdney), The Night Before Preschool (by Natasha Wing and Amy Wummer), and Preschool Day Hooray! (by Linda Leopold Strauss) help children understand what might happen and what to expect on the first day of school. As a bonus, reading to your child will help him or her develop a lifelong love of reading.
It’s important to keep in mind that every child is unique and may respond in different ways to separation. Remember, too, that teachers are experienced at helping families and children with separation anxiety, and are always willing to step in at any moment during goodbye time to help you and your child work through the transition.