As preschool and daycare teachers know all too well, separation anxiety can appear in numerous forms. Though some individuals may believe it only happens during a child’s first few weeks of school, this is, regrettably, inaccurate. Most preschoolers often transition quite well into the classroom setting. However, teachers will, undoubtedly, have a few that do not.
Separation anxiety in children may present itself as sitting quietly on a chair avoiding any interaction with their new classmates. Others, more commonly, may cry. Some may even have an all-out tantrum. Oh, ye all-knowing gods of early education, what is a teacher TO DO???!!!
Understand the Big Picture and Quash that Anxiety Monster
Behold this informative list of separation anxiety tips! Teachers, these five steps will calm those early morning jitters and help settle any classroom fiasco.
Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #1:
The Classroom Meet and Greet
Aside from acknowledging a child’s feelings, it is also imperative to recognize a parent’s emotions and concerns as well. Typically, parents experience guilt, apprehension, anger, frustration, and helplessness. It’s completely normal and understandable, of course, given the situation. Yet, when you verbally empathize with a parent, it lets them know that you do care.
It helps to greet each child and parent at morning drop-off time. At this point, you can assure them that you will help their child settle in. Let them know that their child is most assuredly NOT the only one to react this way and that it is a very common occurrence in the daycare and preschool setting.
Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #2:
Acceptance of Emotions
Acceptance of emotions is a huge, important point. In fact, if you have a highlighter nearby, I suggest you circle and color this section in. Here’s what you need to really pay attention to as a teacher:
Many well-intentioned statements or comments are often made to a child suffering from separation anxiety which results in a total dismissal of how they are truly feeling in the moment. And, although they were made with the intention of aiding them with their feelings, the result is that those same comments and statements won’t alter that child’s emotions. In fact, it could just make everything all that much worse.
Please, avoid saying things such as:
“Oh, no! Don’t cry! Look! This is a happy preschool/daycare! We don’t cry here!”
“You’re a big girl/boy now, and preschoolers don’t cry at school!”
“You’re a big kid now, not a baby! Go play! No more tears!”
These types of statements, again, simply dismiss how children are feeling. Their separation anxiety has to do with being in a new, unknown place AND being separated from their family. It is important to acknowledge how they feel.
Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #3:
Reassurance and Encouragement
Once the parent has left, then sit down with the anxious child and reassure them that their parent will most definitely return for them. Now, try to get them involved in a classroom activity that you have available. If, however, the child is not interested in interacting or getting involved in the activity, just accept it. Instead, offer them a quiet choice. Do not attempt to force interaction and play since they simply need to calm down from their anxiety.
Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #4:
Usually, if a child has a tough time at morning drop-off, then that is the image that parents remain with the entire day: My child is sad/angry/crying/freaking out. And, naturally, they feel horrible about it.
Why not let them know that their child is, in fact (hopefully), doing fine later on in the day? Honestly, it only takes a few minutes to do so and can be done with a short text. You can even include a picture of their little one in an activity (as long as you don’t include other children in the picture, for confidentiality reasons).
Or, if a child had a particularly difficult drop-off, consider calling the parent instead. However, one word of warning, do not, REPEAT, DO NOT call them in front of their child. Because, obviously, all hell will break loose, and you’ll find yourself back at square one. Not only will parents truly appreciate the quick call, but they’ll also learn that you do honestly care about their child.
Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #5:
Talking it Out
Talk it out with both the parents and the children. And, not just the child in question, but all the children in the classroom. It’s the perfect opportunity to discuss feelings in the classroom.
Talking it Out with the Children:
Talk to kids about how they are feeling during school at circle time. Here’s a chance to perhaps incorporate a How Do You Feel Today? segment to your classroom time. Try using emotion faces to help children link the appropriate emotion to the discussion, whether by using pictures or stickers or artwork. Perhaps you’d be interested in using a chart system that allows kids to place emotion stickers next to their name which would allow them to connect with how they are feeling each day.
Talking it Out with the Parents:
Do try to be available at pick-up time, especially for those children having separation anxiety issues. Let the parent(s) know how their child transitioned throughout the day. Although, if a parent wishes to talk longer about their child’s separation anxiety, it would be helpful to arrange a more appropriate time to speak. Why not suggest that you call them after school instead? Please keep in mind that discussing such delicate issues in front of their child, and really, the class in general, can lead to further feelings of being self-conscious…. which can lead to even MORE anxiety. Remember, little ears are always listening!