The first day of a new preschool, or even the first day in a new classroom in the old preschool, can be met with a mix of excitement and anxiety for kids and parents alike. Although it’s fun to embark on a new adventure and many preschoolers delight in the feeling of being “big,” change can be scary for little ones (and their worried parents).
While a highly orchestrated morning routine might get you and your little one out the door on time, that final goodbye can leave even the most upbeat preschooler in a puddle of tears. Preschool parking lots are packed with tearful parents afraid to put their cars in reverse for good reason: separation is hard.
It’s only natural for kids to feel anxious when saying goodbye to their parents. In fact, separation anxiety is a normal part of child development. It can begin before the first birthday and pop up again (multiple times) until age four, and sometimes even into elementary school. It can even begin later in the school year. Some kids seem to be doing just fine with the transition only to experience separation anxiety a few weeks into the school year.
Crying, tantrums and clinginess are all common symptoms of preschoolers struggling with separation anxiety. Parents should also be on the lookout for signs of regressed behavior. Try not to worry too much if your recently potty trained preschooler suddenly fails to make it to the bathroom on time. When a child is challenged by a new developmental task, he is likely to temporarily lose ground in an area recently mastered.
As you prepare to drop your child off at preschool, try these strategies to help your child cope with separation anxiety:
Confront parental ambivalence. It’s perfectly normal for parents to worry about the transition to a new preschool classroom. It’s hard to trust a new person or a new school with a little one! Kids will pick up on parental ambivalence. If parents hesitate, kids will feel unsafe.
Create a goodbye ritual. Creating a specific goodbye ritual prior to the first day of preschool can ease some of the anxiety about that final goodbye. Try one (or more) of these ideas:
Watch your body language as you say goodbye. You might feel sad, but you want your child to feel safe and secure in this new fun environment. Stand up straight and smile for your little one to model a cheerful goodbye!
Stick to a routine. Children are at their best when they have plenty of rest, eat a nutritious breakfast and don’t feel rushed.
The preschool years provide a great foundation for kids and kids have a lot of fun during this first school experience. Once you get over that first hurdle of saying goodbye, you will see your child grow and learn in leaps and bounds!
Source: www.pbs.org/ parents
Katie Hurley, LCSW, is a child and adolescent psychotherapist, parenting expert, and writer. She is the founder of “Girls Can!” empowerment groups for girls between ages 5-11. Hurley is the author of No More Mean Girls and The Happy Kid Handbook, and her work can be found in The Washington Post, Psychology Today, and US News and World Report.