Handling Back-to-School Separation Anxiety

Many children experience back-to-school anxiety, but for young children starting preschool or daycare for the first time, this anxiety can feel acute. After all, the new routines of preschool or daycare are completely new to them.

Here are some tips for relieving back-to-school separation anxiety in your young child.

Start preparing your child as soon as possible

It’s best to prepare your child for the concept of preschool or daycare as early as you can. This way, you can help him get more comfortable with the idea. Set realistic expectations about the preschool experience, encourage your child to talk about his feelings, and visit the preschool or daycare ahead of time to help your child adjust in advance.

Send your child off with a comforting object

It can help your child to feel less overwhelmed if she brings along a comforting object from home. This can be a stuffed animal, book, or blanket – even a photo of her family. These objects can impart a sense of security to a young child entering a strange new environment. It’s a good idea to not send your child’s favorite comforting object, however, as it may become lost or misplaced during the day.

Keep the drop-off easy and light

Avoid long, lingering goodbyes, or trying to slip away without saying goodbye at all. Your child will take his behavioral cues from you, so reinforce the idea that preschool is a safe, happy place to be, and that your child isn’t being abandoned there. Say goodbye to your child quickly and cheerfully, and resist the urge to stay with him too long. It may also help your child to develop a routine around saying goodbye at preschool or daycare, such as a special high-five or funny phrase. This is another way to keep the drop-off fun and signal to your child that everything is fine.

Be patient with preschool and daycare separation anxiety

Separation anxiety in young children can be difficult to predict. Some children can exhibit signs of anxiety after a period of good days. Others may have a more difficult time with the transition than others. If your child seems to be having trouble with the transition into preschool or daycare, it’s important to remain consistent and patient. It can be tempting to make the decision to pull your child out of the situation if she’s struggling. However, doing so may have the undesired effect of reinforcing your child’s idea that preschool or daycare is a scary place. Instead, sticking to your daily routine will give both of you a chance to work through her feelings and develop coping strategies.

Ask the teacher for advice

The teachers at your child’s preschool or daycare are experts in the various behavioral quirks of young children, and they deal with all kinds of moods and emotions on a daily basis. It’s a good idea to talk to a teacher before the first day, to give an idea of your child’s personality and the things that comfort him or cause him anxiety. The teacher can use this information to help soothe your child if he experiences anxiety during the day, and may also be able to advise you on what you can do at home to help your child.

Starting preschool or daycare is a big step in your young child’s life, and one that comes with a host of complex emotions. However, there are several strategies the whole family can employ to reduce the frequency of back-to-school separation anxiety.