It’s completely normal for children to feel anxious about leaving a parent behind when going to daycare or preschool, but if it’s affecting their ability to have fun and learn, it can become a problem. Separation anxiety is common in children attending daycare or preschool for the first time, and while it’s not easy, it is completely possible to overcome and ensure that your child will have a great time while you are gone.
What Is Separation Anxiety in Childcare?
Separation anxiety is a fear of being away from one’s parents or guardians. It often manifests itself as crying and clinging. Separation anxiety makes saying goodbye to your little ones difficult – it’s so hard to walk away when they are reaching and crying for you. But separation anxiety is normal, and most children gradually become used to being away from you with practice.
What Triggers Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is triggered when a young child is separated from their parent or guardian. Being in a new environment, like a daycare or classroom, tends to exacerbate separation anxiety, but it can also occur whenever the parent leaves the child at home, for example, with a babysitter.
Separation anxiety is very common between the ages of one and four. Typically, separation anxiety will go away by the age of three and four; but for some children, it lingers, and becomes a problem.
How to Ease Separation Anxiety at Preschool and Daycare
Separation anxiety can be a difficult and heartbreaking problem. Thankfully, it is not hopeless: every child can learn to separate from their parent or guardian with some patient care and practice. Here are some tips for how to ease separation anxiety:
- Practice Being Apart: Just like anything else, being apart from you is something your child needs to practice before they can perfect it. Hire a babysitter to watch them for an hour or two while you run errands, send them to a beloved relative for a day, schedule a playdate for them at another family’s house. With time and practice, your child will begin to feel comfortable with you away.
- Be Empathetic: Listen to your child’s concerns. Tell them that you understand and that it’s okay to miss you. Reassure them that you’ll always come back.
- Read a Book Together: There are many books for children that tackle the issue of separation anxiety: The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn is a classic; Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney is a fun book in rhyme; and Oh My Baby, Little One by Kathi Applet for a sweet, loving read that will make your child feel close to you even when apart. These books will help give your child coping mechanisms and remind them that you are always there for them, even when you’re away.
- Create a Calm, Brief Goodbye Ritual: When saying goodbye to your child, come up with something to mark the transition between you being there and you being gone. It can be fun – like a funny catchphrase and a high-five – or caring – a hug and an “I love you.” Make sure to keep it brief: dragging out the goodbye will only make it harder on both of you; and really leave when you say you’re going to: leaving and them coming back can be confusing.
- Be Consistent: Children thrive on consistency and routine. Showing up at the same time every day gives them confidence in knowing when you will return.
How Do Daycares Deal with Separation Anxiety?
Daycare caregivers and preschool teachers are well equipped to deal with separation anxiety, and we have many different resources and tools to help your child feel comfortable and safe while they’re in our hands. If your child has any special needs – for instance, if they need to go straight into an activity to soothe and distract them – let us know so we can help out. It’s also a good idea to meet with the teachers and daycare employees before your child’s first day and be friendly with them. This will help your child become comfortable with the staff before they have to spend the day in their care.
Separation anxiety is a perfectly normal thing for your child to experience – but hopefully, also something that goes away once your child becomes more comfortable in a daycare or preschool environment and begins to have fun. If you’re interested in enrolling your child into one of our programs, or if you have any questions, please call our Mesa campus at (480)-267-9419 or our Gilbert campus at (480)-267-9427.