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Separation Anxiety in Children: Tips to Help Preschoolers

Separation Anxiety in Children: Tips to Help Preschoolers

Liam at Age 2Liam transitioned to the preschool room a few months back and while it was obvious he was ready for the transition, moving away from his wonderful toddler teachers and friends to the big, loud world of preschoolers seemed a little intimidating to us both. While he seemed to enjoy preschool, he really struggled with the transition and we went through a few weeks of heart-wrenching separation anxiety. We’d had hard drop offs (and tough child drop ins) on occasion in the past, but the regularity was new. That plus, now as a preschooler, he was able to verbalize his sadness in a way that broke my heart. I would pick him up smiling and happy each afternoon from his preschool class, reassured that he had bounced back and forgotten about the morning, but during high/low at the dinner table each night he would recount his low – “when Mommy left me in the morning and I didn’t want her to go and I cried” – I knew he hadn’t forgotten about the morning drop off at preschool any more than I had.

Thankfully, after a few tough weeks, we seem to be over the worst of it. Drop offs at preschool have been much better. Here are a few of the things that helped BOTH of us through the transition and with separation anxiety.

Tips for Helping Preschoolers with Separation Anxiety

1. Think about your morning routine. In the toddler room, I usually hung out for a bit in the classroom before heading off to work whether to read a book or do an activity with Liam. I loved it because it seemed to ease his classroom transition and I got to see and interact with his school friends and teachers a bit more. Once we hit preschool, it seemed the longer I stayed and tried to help his transition, the harder it was to leave. I talked to his teachers and they recommended a shorter drop off so we’ve started doing that. Some mornings I’ll still stay long enough to get Liam engaged in an activity but I try to remember that, at least for now, it’s easier for him and on me if I don’t hang around too long.

2. Talk to the preschool teachers. I probably should have done this more. Working on parent-teacher communication definitely helped. Hearing what they’ve seen work best and working with them to make sure Liam was engaged in an activity right away with their help was key.

3. Get advice. E-family news, a free Bright Horizons parenting e-newsletter, has great articles on tips on classroom transitions and on reducing separation anxiety that I found to be really helpful. Talk to other parents, too – it was reassuring to hear that other parents had similar experiences during preschool transitions and made it out the other side eventually. The Bright Horizons Online Community is another great place to connect with other families and ask questions.

4. Books can really help. After a week of separation anxiety in our preschooler, I went out and bought The Kissing Hand and Llama Llama Misses Mama – both about separation anxiety at school. Liam really took to them. We still read them regularly and kissing his hand and him kissing mine has become the final part of my “exit routine” from the center. They really help reinforce a lot of the things we talk about to help calm his anxiety.

5. It might come back. I’ve been warned by several different parents not to be surprised if separation anxiety comes in waves during preschool and in the future. More than anything, it’s helped so I won’t be completely shell-shocked and deflated if we have tough drop offs again.

Has your child had a tough transition to a new classroom/school? What helped them (and you!) get through it?

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