Separation Anxiety : 10 tips for a smooth transition to Pre-school

Separation anxiety is the fear of being separated from a parent or other significant person in a child’s life. It is very common in pre-school growth and development. The beginning of a school year is the number one cause of separation anxiety in pre-schoolers. Some children transition smoothly into school. Others have a tough time in the beginning and display symptoms that vary. One child may react by crying, another by yelling, another by displaying defiance and yet in others extreme quietness. In all cases, it is based on the child in others extreme qualities of this new situation. We know this can be a difficult time for the child and the parent. There are many things you can do to help your child with the transition to preschool before, during and after school begins! We are here to work with you, as a team, to help your child transition as smoothly as possible into school. With that end in mind, we give you the following tips.

 Tip 1: Read Stories

There are many books available that will help you and your child talk about school! Some of our suggestions are:

  • Don’t Go by Jane Breskin Zalban
  • My First Day At Nursery School by Becky Edwards
  • First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
  • I Love you All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas
  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Tip 2: Send a family photo

Bring a small, family photo to school on the first day and hang it by your child’s school bag! Your child can see their family whenever they need to during the day!

Tip 3: Choose a drop-off routine

Let your child know in advance what to expect and what will happen when they arrive at school. Doing this before you get to school will help your child feel secure when they arrive. Example: “When we get to school, we’ll find your nametag and put your school bag in the right place and then we will use the bathroom. We can read a story or do a puzzle together. After that, I will leave, and you will stay at school with your friends and teachers. I will come back to pick you up after Story Time.”

First day of school

Follow through with your plan It is important for you to be consistent with your routine when dropping your child off. Follow through with the plan you have decided on. Once you have read one story or completed one puzzle, it is time for you to say goodbye and leave—not time to read a second story or start a second puzzle. If your child is having a tough time with this, let us know you are ready to leave. We will help you say goodbye and redirect your child to an activity!

 Tip1: “Read” the daily schedule

You may find it helpful to read our daily schedule with your child. It will be emailed to you before school starts. Showing your child what will happen during the day and pointing out when you will return to pick up will be comforting. We will also review this with the children in the morning.

Tip 2: Stay Calm and don’t apologize.

When a child is crying, many times as parents, we apologize for leaving. Doing this unintentionally gives your child the idea you are not comfortable with them staying at school. Rather than saying, “I’m sorry. Mommy has to leave now.” Try “It’s time for me to leave now. Have a fun day! I will see you after Story time!”.

Tip 3: Say goodbye to your child and… leave!

This is the most important step to a successful drop off. Notice there are 2 steps in this tip. Let’s look at both!

Step 1: Say Goodbye: It sometimes seems easiest and best to quietly leave the classroom when your child is busy playing and skip the goodbyes. We know from experience that this is not the best choice! Your child is happy and focused and confident that you are nearby. When he or she realizes you are gone, panic can set in. Remember, separation anxiety is the fear of being separated from you. To your child, you didn’t leave, you disappeared. This begins the anxiety all over! Please say goodbye.

Step 2: Once you say goodbye, you need to LEAVE! Do not drag out the goodbye. If you are not going to leave right away, do not say goodbye. But, once you say goodbye, leave promptly, with a smile on your lips!

Tip 4: Help us to help you!

If your child is having a rough time of you leaving, let us know. Hand your child to us. Handing your child TO us (rather than us “taking” your child FROM you) tells the child that you trust us and it is okay to come to us while still missing you. We know this can be difficult for you as well as your child. But, don’t Worry! We have a 10-minute rule! We do not want your child to be upset any more than you do. We want school to be a positive experience! We have a 10-minute rule: If your child is still upset after 10 minutes, we will call you and try again or set up a new plan to help your child ease into school!


Pick-up time

Tip 1: Be on time

Your child tells time by the activities of the day, not by a clock. If you are not there when other children are being picked up, your child worries. If you are running late, please call us so we can let your child know.

Tip 2: Be focused

Be prepared to give 100% focused to your child at pick-up. They’ve had an exciting day and want to share with you. This is a great time for you to look at something your child created, meet one of their new friends and to reinforce that you picked them up when you said you would! Please turn off your cell phones before picking your child up!

Tip 3 & final thoughts

Separation anxiety can return even after it seems to be gone for good. It might return after a long weekend, a vacation, absence for an illness or a school break. If this happens, following the previous steps will help your child through it once again. This time, it will be easier because trust has been built between your child and us. If you have concerns about your child’s separation anxiety, let’s talk! We can set up a time to talk on the telephone or to meet at school while another staff member plays with your child. We are here to team with you to help your child transition smoothly!


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