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Tips: Overcoming Separation Anxiety on First Day of Preschool

Updated: May 11

Discover effective ways to alleviate separation anxiety in preschoolers to help them have a more positive and enjoyable first day of school in a new environment


Updated on March 22, 2023


Although starting preschool is a major milestone, it often comes with lots of crying, uncertainty, and heel digging. "For children, the main source of anxiety around entering preschool is that they have absolutely no idea what to expect," says Ms Khushbu Makwana, a certified early childhood and early childhood special education teacher at the The Learning Cottage Preschool, Daycare & Activity Centre in Borivali West, Mumbai. "Children spend the first three to four years learning the rules and routines of their family life and they are completely unfamiliar with the new rules and routines they will encounter."

Since starting preschool is such a novel experience, you shouldn't treat it like any other date on your calendar. Take several weeks before the first day to ease [them] into this new adventure. Read on to learn the best ways to help a child with "first day of preschool" separation anxiety.


Child excited for First Day of Preschool
Excitement for First Day of Preschool

Introduction:

The first day of preschool is an exciting milestone for children and parents alike. However, it can also be a source of anxiety and stress, especially if your child is experiencing separation anxiety. In this article, we'll provide you with practical tips and strategies to help your child overcome separation anxiety and make the transition to preschool smoother for everyone.


Understanding Separation Anxiety


What is Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development and typically occurs around 8 months to 2 years of age. It's a normal reaction to being separated from a parent or caregiver and can manifest as crying, clinging, and tantrums. However, some children may continue to experience separation anxiety beyond the age of 2, which can make the transition to preschool more challenging.


How does Separation Anxiety Affect Children on the First Day of Preschool?

For children experiencing separation anxiety, the first day of preschool can be overwhelming and stressful. They may feel scared, anxious, and uncertain about what to expect. As a result, they may cling to their parent or caregiver and refuse to let go, making it difficult for parents to leave.


First Day of Preschool Tips: Overcoming Separation Anxiety


Prepare Your Child in Advance

One of the best ways to help your child overcome separation anxiety is to prepare them in advance for the first day of preschool. Here are some tips to help you get started:


Explain the routines of preschool.

Provide your child with an overview of what to expect during their preschool routine. You can describe the various activities they will engage in, the different children they will meet, and reassure them that you will always be present to pick them up at the end of the day. It's important to avoid overhyping preschool and making unrealistic promises, such as ensuring that they will make new friends on day one. Doing so may cause your child to feel apprehensive and scared about attending preschool, instead of being excited.


Visit the Preschool Ahead of Time

Take your child to the preschool ahead of time and show them around. Introduce them to the teacher and other staff members, and let them explore the classroom and play area. This will help your child become familiar with their new environment and feel more comfortable on the first day. "If you show your child that the teacher is someone you like and trust, the child will have an easier time forming an attachment to her," says Ms Tejashree Solanki.


Join the Settler’s Batches.

Seeing familiar faces in their class will increase your child's comfort level. A few days before the big send-off, take your child for a school tour to help find key places like the classroom, play area and water fountain. Many schools like The Learning Cottage also have websites that give online tours that show the school layout. Pre-schoolers often feel anxious about a new playground, especially if it feels big or has challenging equipment. To remedy this, you might be able to visit the school after hours or during scheduled or Free Settler’s batches so your child can climb on the play equipment or ride the indoor slides without the intimidating presence of other kids.


Talk to Your Child About What to Expect

Explain to your child what will happen on the first day of preschool. Tell them about the activities they will do, the friends they will make, and how much fun they will have. This will help your child feel excited and less anxious about the upcoming transition.


Be Positive and Encouraging

Children pick up on their parents' emotions, so it's important to be positive and encouraging about the first day of preschool. Here are some tips to help you stay positive:


Avoid Making Negative Comments

Avoid making negative comments about the first day of preschool, such as "I'm going to miss you so much" or "I don't want to leave you." These comments can make your child feel anxious and uncertain about the upcoming transition.


Never make comparisons.

Don't chastise your toddler and say, "Rahul / Riya doesn't cry when his / her mom leaves." Honoring your child's process is the best way to make the transition to preschool as smooth as possible, Ms. Makwana says. "The child who never cries when his parent leaves him may act out the scene over and over again during play to process his feelings. Another child may need to cry at every separation for a while in order to work through his feelings," Ms Makwana says.


Use Positive Language

Use positive language when talking about the first day of preschool. For example, say "I can't wait to hear about all the fun things you'll do today" or "I'm so proud of you for being brave and going to preschool."


Establish a Goodbye Ritual

Establishing a goodbye ritual can help your child feel more secure and confident about the separation. Here are some ideas to consider:


Keep Goodbyes Short and Sweet

Keep goodbyes short and sweet, but be sure to give your child a hug and a kiss. Let them know that you love them and that you'll be back to pick them up later.


Create a Special Handshake or Wave

Create a special handshake or wave that you and your child can do before you leave. This can be a fun and memorable way to say goodbye and reassure your child that you'll be back soon.


Leave a Comfort Item with Your Child

Consider leaving a comfort item with your child, such as a favorite toy or blanket. This can provide them with a sense of security and familiarity, which can help ease their anxiety.


Consider a reward system.

Ms Solanki suggests a reward system to motivate the child with a positive reinforcement technique. If the child goes to class without putting up a fuss, you could put a smiley face on the activity sheets / books . On Friday, if the child has five smiley faces, reward your child with their favorite treat.


FAQs

What if My Child Refuses to Go to Preschool?

If your child refuses to go to preschool, it's important to stay calm and patient. Try to understand their concerns and fears, and reassure them that they will be safe and have fun at preschool. If the issue persists, consider seeking advice from a teacher and the preschool staff. In rare cases consider speaking to a child psychologist also helps.


How Long Does Separation Anxiety Last?

Separation anxiety typically lasts for a few minutes to a few hours after the parent leaves. However, for some children, it may persist for several weeks or months. If you're concerned about your child's separation anxiety, speak to the teacher and the preschool staff.


Can Separation Anxiety Affect Learning?

Yes, if your child is experiencing severe separation anxiety, it can affect their ability to learn and participate in classroom activities. It's important to address separation anxiety early on to ensure your child has a positive and successful preschool experience.


Any tips for Parents who suffer Separation Anxiety themselves?

Do not underestimate the significance of alleviating your own separation anxiety along with your child's. If you experience feelings of guilt or apprehension when leaving them at school, your child may sense that and become anxious themselves. Remaining calm and confident can boost your child's confidence as well.

Encourage yourself with positive self-talk. Develop a phrase such as "This is the best place for my child" or "Leaving my child here is the right choice" to remind yourself why being apart is beneficial for both you and your child. Repeat this phrase as needed.

Avoid surprise visits. Once you have dropped off your child, resist the temptation to go back and check on them or call the school frequently. According to Ms. Solanki, "If you are constantly checking up on your child, you run the risk of them constantly checking up on you in return.


Conclusion

The first day of preschool can be a challenging time for both children and parents, especially if your child is experiencing separation anxiety. However, with the right preparation and strategies, you can help your child overcome their fears and have a positive and successful preschool experience.

Remember to prepare your child in advance, be positive and encouraging, establish a goodbye ritual, and seek help if needed. With patience, understanding, and support, you and your child can overcome separation anxiety and make the most of this exciting milestone.


Best of luck on your first day of preschool journey!


At The Learning Cottage, we believe in the power of early childhood education to shape the future of our children. Our goal is to provide quality preschool and early childhood education services that help children reach their full potential.


Borivali Center: THE LEARNING COTTAGE, Ground Floor, Lancelot Building Compound, Borivali West, E-14, Bharat Baug, Swami Vivekananda Rd, next to Dr Umesh Khanna clinic, Mumbai - 400092, Maharashtra, India. Email: info@thelearningcottage.co.in



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