Separation anxiety in preschoolers is a real phenomena and you can help your child to overcome it.
Your child’s first day in school can be met with mixed reactions – excitement and anxiety. Although it can be a delight to embark on a new preschooling journey, the routine and environment change can be scary for your child.
Preparing and heading to preschool might be fine, but it’s usually during the goodbye when your child’s emotional tears are triggered.
Separation anxiety is part of your child’s development and it’s natural if your child feels anxious when it’s time to say goodbye.
It usually starts when your child enrolls into preschool and it might come again during primary school if they are with caring teachers.
In this article, we will share ways to help your child overcome separation anxiety. Let’s get started.
What is Separation Anxiety (in preschoolers)?
Separation anxiety is an emotional problem that comes with severe distress when a child separates from their parents, usually for the first time.
This happens because children think they are being left behind by their parents.
The good news is you can help your child overcome it, and eventually they will learn how to deal with their emotions.
If this issue is not addressed, children with separation anxiety might begin to look for ways to avoid going to preschool and socialising with other children.
Is it Normal for a 4 Year Old to Have Anxiety?
Yes, it is normal.
You might think that as a child grows older, they will have fewer issues with separation anxiety. But that’s not the case.
The reason why even a 4-year old child may have separation anxiety is because going to preschool and being in an environment with other children is a whole new experience for them. For the first time in their life, they are to be separated from you for half a day.
If left un-nurtured, separation anxiety in preschoolers problem can go up to primary school or even further in some children.
Some common signs of separation anxiety in preschoolers include hyper-vigilance, excessive crying, nightmares and the fear of separating from you.
Luckily, there are some ways to help your child deal with separation anxiety.
Ways to Deal With Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers
1. Familiarize Your Child with Their School Routines
Your child’s first experience in school should match their expectations to help them overcome separation anxiety.
Tell your child about the games they’ll play, the things they’ll learn, and the friends they’ll meet. More importantly, let your child know that you will be around to pick them up after school.
Avoid making empty promises, such as telling them you’ll join the classes together with them, which is something that is not allowed in most preschools in Malaysia.
2. Visit the Preschool Together
Children feel more secure when they are accompanied by their parents. That’s why it’s a good idea to bring your child along to visit the preschool before his first day.
Many preschools allow visiting days, so while you inquire about school, allow your child to familiarise themself with the place. This also involves getting them to meet their teachers and making the first introduction.
It will also help if you embrace the culture of saying goodbye before the first day at school. By doing so, you’ll help your child overcome anxiety when you finally bid goodbye.
Here are two ideas you could try:
- Come up with a unique style of goodbye handshake or wave. (Make it a fun activity that is unique to you and your child.)
- Show your child love by offering hugs and encouraging them by giving high-fives for their effort to go to school.
3. Send Them Positive Signals
More often than not, parents themselves sometimes get separation anxiety too. It’s really important that you maintain a positive outlook and don’t allow your child to see the anxiety getting to you.
This might be hard for you, but always stay positive because children tend to mimic your behavior and actions.
Share that positivism and cheerfulness with your child. Positively reinforce your child that he is going to preschool for good reasons.
Be mindful of your body language too as it can give away signals that you’re distressed.
4. Distract Them in a Positive Way
A counter-intuitive way to help overcome separation anxiety in preschoolers is to keep them busy. One great idea is to prepare them to be avid readers by the time they enter preschool.
Have your child bring a few of their favourite books to preschool, so they can read while they wait for classes to start. This distracts their thoughts in a positive way.
Yes, they will learn to read in preschool, but at the same time, it also helps prepare them for the reading activities in preschool.
Knowledge is power and the more knowledge your child has, the more motivated they will be to learn more at preschool.
5. Avoid Sneaking Away
The best way to deal with separation anxiety in preschoolers is to confront it. We’ve seen many parents sneak away from preschool to avoid seeing their children breaking down.
While this might make you feel better as you don’t have to witness your child’s meltdown, it may cause distrust between you and your child.
So simply be upfront and tell your child that you will be leaving. Sure, your child may begin crying. But in our experience, children usually happily settle down within just a few minutes of their parents leaving them.
6. Never Be Late to Pick Them Up
With today’s stressful and fast-moving working environments, it’s understandable that parents sometimes can lose track of time and even worse, forget to pick their child up from preschool.
One of the biggest factors that cause anxiety in preschoolers is when their parents arrive late to pick them up.
This ends up with them disliking going to preschool because of the uncertainty that awaits them at the end of the school day.
Whether it’s you or someone else picking your child, make sure to be present on time or better yet early. Picking your child up from preschool on time is a good sign that you honoured your promise to them.
7. Don’t Make Comparisons
A common mistake that parents unintentionally make is to compare their child with other children.
Most parents compare their child with the others in hopes to urge the spirit of competition in them. They think the best way to bring out the potential of their child is for them to excel over the others.
However, this cannot be any further from the truth.
When parents constantly express their displeasure and belittle their child, this usually ends up negatively and their child loses self-confidence.
Understand that every child including yours is unique in their own ways of expressing, learning and growing up. Preschool and its teachers serve to guide them, but not to impose limiting thoughts and opinions on them.
Give the chance for your child to think critically and make their own decisions. This will give them a better sense of accomplishment, building their self-esteem and confidence in the process.
8. Practice Active Listening
The experience at preschool is new and usually exciting for your child. When they go home after an eventful day at preschool, there will be a high chance that they would want to tell you about their day and what they have learnt at preschool.
This is when you should practice active listening.
It can be easy to brush off this listening activity, especially if you had a busy or tiring day. However, understand that this is one of the most important activities that go into developing your child’s character.
It’s also a good opportunity to listen to them and find out if they face any problems or difficulties at preschool.
Here are some tips to practice active listening:
- Get down to their level and listen to what they have to say.
- Make eye contact and put down the other things you’re doing.
- Give 100% attention to your child.
- Repeat what your child says to signal to her that you’re listening.
9. Be Honest with your Child
Honour your child’s feelings and find out what upsets them. Don’t just give an ultimatum and ask them to keep quiet by shunning off their complaints. On the contrary, seek to understand and be honest with them.
Tell them how you were once in the same position as they were. Perhaps tell a story about how you felt nervous and anxious during a situation and how you overcame it.
By showing the relatability of your experience to theirs, this reaffirms that the experience they are going through is normal and they will be alright.
10. Put Your Trust in the Teacher
At this point, sometimes it is best to leave it to your child’s preschool teacher to help your child with separation anxiety.
Teachers through our network of preschools go through regular training conducted by headquarters. This prepares them to educate children using our very own award-winning Link & Think Methodology developed by the Research & Development team.
Besides, they have dealt with countless moments of separation anxiety in preschoolers children and may just be the best people to handle the issue.
Arrange regular appointments with your child’s preschool teacher to learn about your child’s performance in school and figure out ways to continue helping them at home.
Separation anxiety in preschoolers is normal, and it’s something that can be corrected.
Remember that every child is unique with their own character, where separation anxiety can seem to be more prevalent in some children.
More importantly, constantly listen to your child and guide them, rather than resorting to scolding or caning.