What would you feel if you were brought to a new place, without any familiar face and made to do things you haven’t done before? I would probably cry, too! Now, you may ask why the other kids aren’t crying and your child is.. Kids handle stress in various ways. I remember my eldest crying on the first day of Fourth Grade because she had just transferred schools. What makes them stop crying? A feeling of security. How do they achieve this?
- Familiarity. Preschoolers usually hate surprises! They feel more safe in familiar surroundings. Also, the more they get to know their teacher, the more familiar the teacher would be to your child. Teachers would usually calm the crying students by staying close to them during class or assigning a co-teacher to focus on those experiencing anxiety.
- Transitions and Routines. If you notice preschool schedules, it has repeating blocks of time or routines. This allows your child to expect what will happen next. Knowing this gives your child a sense of control and security.
- Positive Images. In order for school to be a happy place for your child, he should have a positive image of it. He will eventually enjoy the activities, the playground and games with classmates. Encourage him to talk about it at home by asking him about his day.
- Assurance from YOU. If your child reads stress in YOUR face as well then that will also be his prevailing emotion. Try to keep a reassuring demeanor when you are dealing with your child’s separation anxiety. Keep your statements short and clear, “Mommy, will pick you up after school.” “Mommy will leave now. Teacher will take care of you in the classroom.” Promising that you will “just be outside” or saying “I’ll give you a reward if you stop crying.”usually does not help. It gives your child a false sense of security.
- Working with your child’s school and teacher. Your child’s teacher is an expert in child development and separation anxiety. Listen to what they have to say about the issue and follow their advice on how your child can overcome it. What do teachers usually suggest?
- “Leave and Cleave” – When dropping off your child, it is best to leave as soon as you drop your child off. We had a student who cried when he would arrive in school with his mommy. Out of worry, his mommy would stay with him until classes would start. We noticed that our student would stop crying when his mom leaves. When we asked the mom to just drop him off and leave, our student had an easier time overcoming her anxiety.
- Have someone else bring your child to school. We had a case once that a student would cry when Mommy would bring her to school and wouldn’t cry when Daddy brings her. We asked Daddy to bring her for the first month of school.
In my 15 years of teaching, all our young students who experienced separation anxiety eventually overcame their anxiety after a few weeks of attending school. Believe me, they WILL stop crying… if both you and the school do your parts well. If your child is still crying after a month of going to school, it is best to ask for a meeting with your child’s teacher to discuss what further steps you may take. You may ask your school the following questions:
- How does the teacher manage crying students in the classroom?
- Do they have set routines in class?
- What is the teacher:student ratio or aside from the teacher, is their another adult who can attend to students experiencing anxiety?
- Does your child cry the whole time or are there random triggers during class? (some kids cry when teachers turn off the lights during rest time, or when it’s snack time because they’re used to their parent or caregiver feeding them)?