Understanding Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers
A simple act of waving goodbye to their parents involves a certain complexity of emotions for preschoolers, regardless of the duration of separation. The biggest feeling that usually surfaces up when anticipating separation is anxiety. People usually feel anxious because of the unknown and uncertainty that come after the separation. This anxiousness will lead people to feel other mixed emotions such as fear, feeling lost and frustrations.
As adults, we know how to manage and express these emotions in different socially-acceptable ways. However, it is not the case for our young ones. They will usually apply the ways they know how to express those feelings, which include screaming, crying, clinging, rolling on the floor, hitting and kicking. On some occasions, separation anxiety may lead to nightmares and insomniacs, which are just part and parcel of adjusting to the changes that are happening in their lives.
Why Does Separation Anxiety Happen to children?
Fearing the unknown is the cause of separation anxiety, in this case, children experience separation anxiety because they do not know:
- How long they are going to be away from their parents
- Would their parents even come back for them
- Is the new environment safe for them
How Do We Handle Separation Anxiety?
- Children are very sensitive to the feelings that parents emote. Thus, it is important for parents to stay calm and composed. We understand that in the process of going through separation anxiety, the parents can also be very stressed and anxious which is expected. In the case that the parents or caregivers need to express their emotions, it is advisable to do it after the parents have sent the child into the school and not in front of him/her. Seeing that the parents and caregivers are as anxious or even more anxious than the child will heighten up the existing anxiety, which in this case will not help the situation.
- Parents should always inform their children where they are going and when they will be back to pick them up. It is strongly advisable to keep the promises made to them and be on time when picking them up.
- Parents should reassure children that they will be in school with the teachers who will take good care of them and have fun with them. Make it visible to the children that the parents trust the teachers hence they can trust the teachers too.
- Parents should create a short and simple goodbye ritual with their children and stick with that consistently, especially during the process of easing the anxiety. For example, waving goodbye followed by a big hug and a kiss on his/her forehead. After that, the parents should walk away confidently from them and let the teachers take over.
- Do not hold onto your crying child tightly, instead, confidently pass your child to the teacher-in-charge because this act of passing shows children that the parents trust the teacher and therefore, they can feel safe with her.
- Do not prolong the goodbye process. Some children will try to drag the goodbye longer by negotiating or clinging on to the parents tighter than usual. Stick to the consistent goodbye ritual and keep it short and sweet.
- Do not disappear when you realize your child is not looking, because this act of disappearing will result in your child fearing of the unknown. In this case, the children will no longer be able to predict what causes the parents to go missing, when and why they suddenly go missing. This will lead to a feeling of helplessness.
- Do not appear again because you realized that your child is still crying, because this will send a signal to the child that when he/she cries, daddy or mummy will come back for them immediately. This action will also prolong the anxiety as they will attempt for more intense, longer and louder cry, thinking that this action will bring the parents back like the day before.
Separation Anxiety is NOT Forever
Well, the good news is separation anxiety is a phase that every child will go through in the process of understanding the concept of time, temporary partings and managing their emotions. Rest assured this will not happen forever and soon enough, your child will wave goodbye to you and walk into school independently by himself/herself. Having said that, it is always important to work closely with the school and take necessary measures to ease the transition for your children.
Do check out our article about choosing the right preschool for your child: What is the Best Preschool in Singapore for My Child?
Capella Preschool Team