Parental Separation Anxiety

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Photo Courtesy limaoscarjuliet

Photo Courtesy limaoscarjuliet

As the school year closes, parents often think about what’s next for their children. For many, that next step is Nursery School, 2 day Toddler classes, or Step Up Classes. This can be a nerve wracking decision as you wonder, is my child ready? How will my young child, who has never been left, cope? What should I do?

The first thing to know is that separation is a normal process that every child goes through. Children express their anxiety about being away from their parents and caregivers in many different ways. Some cry, cling, act out in class and at home, or separate well initially, and then cry a few weeks later. Adults going through separation from their children may be anxious, nervous, and even cry when they leave that very first day. Parents do not like to see their children upset, and this can often illicit responses in you, that you didn’t even know you were capable of.

Remember, this is a normal and important part of development. Children need to learn that it is alright to be away from their parents, and they are safe in other environments. Children also need to understand how to self-soothe. This is something that we work on during the time when they are infants, and keep working on throughout the child’s life. Once a child has learned to trust their teachers, and have understood that they are in a safe environment, they will begin to adjust to whatever classroom environment you have chosen for them.

This leads to the question of what class is right for my child? This is a very personal choice. No one knows your child better than you, and every child is different. As a mother of two boys who both started school at the age of two, their separation was night and day. My oldest son, Logan, cried for two months straight. I wish there had been a Step Up program for him, as I believe it would have been less traumatic for him. Step Up and 2 day Toddler classes, offered by Early Childhood, allow children to slowly separate in the classroom. The class meets two or three days a week, depending on the age of the child. Parents enter the classroom and help their children feel safe in their new environment. As the semester progresses, the teachers give advance notice when the next “Step Up” towards separation will take place.  Parents and caregivers slowly work their way out of the classroom. Though parents and caregivers remain right outside the classrooms, the children inside the classrooms begin to rely on the teachers to tend to their needs.

Kyle, my youngest child, would not have needed a slow separation. On the first day of school, he walked right in, waved good bye, and never looked back. He has always been my adventurous child, and though I was nervous from my past experience, I knew that he would be okay. This is not to say that Kyle did not show separation anxiety in his own way. He acted out a little, and even spoke about not wanting to go to school. In the end, though it was a much smoother transition and the right choice for him. Nursery school offers a learning experience for a longer period of time depending on the program you choose. It is beneficial for parents who are in need of consistent care, and is a truly valuable experience for any child whose parent feels they are ready.

After you make the choice that is right for your child, the question becomes, how do you cope with your own anxiety?  Here are some simple tips:

  1. Ask! Teachers want you to be comfortable, so ask as many questions as you need to! It makes their job easier when you feel at ease!
  2. Communicate! Let them know what you fears are, what’s going on with your child, and what your expectations are. If you are an open book, you’ll feel better and the teachers will have a better understanding of your child.
  3. Trust! If you trust the teachers in your child’s class, so will your children! Remember you have done your research and made a wise choice.  Now, with your help, your teacher will be able to earn your child’s trust. So be positive and stay focused, that trust will soon be built.
  4. Time! Remember, building trust takes time. Some children take a day, others take two months. This is a normal part of development.  Allow your child some time to adjust to their new surroundings.
  5. Conference! If time has passed and your child seems inconsolable, work with your teachers to come up with a plan. If a teacher feels your child is not ready, they will let you know.
  6. Plan! Remember this is as hard on you as it is on them. Have a plan for those first days of school. After your quick goodbye, plan to meet a friend, or do something that will keep you occupied. It is extremely hard to leave your child crying. So even if you plan to remain outside the classroom, bring an ipod, or something that will keep you busy. Planning ahead will help you remain calm.

Separation anxiety is something everyone goes through. Even as adults we tend to feel anxiety in new situations and when we meet new people. Children react the same way in those situations.  Understanding that separation anxiety is normal will help you meet the needs of your child.  Remember you are not alone and your child is not the only one going through this! Reach out to administrators, teachers, and other parents. They are your best source to listen, and even give some helpful tips. Remember, whether your choice is Nursery, Step Up, or Two Day Toddlers, when separation time arrives,  your child will be fine, and so will you!

Photo Courtesy limaoscarjuliet

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