No matter how well you’ve prepared for your day, there’s one thing that will always be unpredictable… and that’s how your child’s morning will go. Even the most organized, focused, put-together parent can be rendered helpless by a child who refuses to go to school.
Separation anxiety is a very real experience for children. When the fear of separation takes hold, there is no logical explanation that will help. The key is to make a plan before the anxiety begins and stick to that plan … over … and over … and over again.
First, it’s important that you feel confident that you are leaving your child in a safe place. It also helps if you truly believe that leaving your child is in the best interest of your family. Any doubts about your decisions will come through loud and clear to the small person who knows you well.
When you know for sure that you’re ready to separate from your child, here are some simple tips that will make a huge difference in your morning routine:
Think like a kid.
Put yourself in your child’s little shoes. Think about the parts of arrival time that happen for your child each day. Focus more on the action steps than about the people who are usually present. You cannot be certain that a particular friend will be there when you arrive, but some steps in the routine can be more predictable. Read on for examples.
Keep it simple and talk it through.
First we’ll walk in and you’ll hang up your bag. You can go over and sit at the table and play with puzzles. I’ll give you a hug and say goodbye and then I’ll go to work. You’ll play at school with your friends.
When grandma picks you up, she’ll give you a big hug. Then you’ll go home and sit in your favorite chair and read books.
Avoid making promises that are difficult to keep or that add to your already full to-do list. Saying you’ll buy something at the store or do something special when you get home can result in demands later in the day and unnecessary stress for everyone.
Connect words with actions.
While the planned action steps are happening, put words to the steps that reinforce the sequence. Keep your child focused on the next step, rather than on the fact that you are separating.
Confidently guide your child through the routine. Even if he or she becomes anxious, do what you said you would do. Following through on your plans will help your child feel secure.
Just like we said, we’re hanging up your bag and going over to the table to play with puzzles. Which puzzle do you want to play with? Here’s the train puzzle. This is when I give you a hug and say goodbye and grandma will pick you up. When you go home you’ll sit in your favorite chair and read books.
Stick to the script in some way… no matter what.
For severe reactions like kicking and screaming, simply approach your child’s teacher for help. Even a substitute teacher can follow along with a well-explained plan as it is happening.
Ms. Mary, on our way here we were talking about how much we like to play with puzzles. I’m going to hand Jimmy a piece of the train puzzle to hold while you give him a hug. Maybe when he calms down, after I leave, he can show you how he can do the puzzle all by himself. Jimmy knows that Grandma is going to pick him up today and give him a hug. Then he’s going to go home and sit in his favorite chair and read books.
The next time you see your child, talk about the day and find out if pick-up went as planned. Adjust the next drop-off conversation as needed. The routine doesn’t have to stay the same every day, as long as you connect with your child and guide him or her consistently.
Eventually, most separation anxiety passes over time. For more severe cases, consult your child’s doctor for advice and additional resources.
Carrie Zwiercan, MS Ed., is the Owner and Executive Director of The Discovery Tree Early Childhood Education Centers in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.