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How To Handle Separation Anxiety: A Montessori Approach

When toddlers start preschool it can be hard on the parent, the child and the teacher. While this is certainly an exciting milestone – for your child, the world as they know it is changing.

Now some children settle into school with no difficulty at all and wave goodbye. But for most children they go through something called separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is a child’s common and natural fear of being separated from their parent.

It could appear anywhere from 8 months of age and last till 2.5-3 years old. They could display this fear by crying or having a tantrum.

Helping a child through this developmental stage requires a partnership between parents and the teacher.

Number 1: Prepare for the Change

  • As a teacher, it’s a good idea to invite new parents to the school at least a week before school will start.
  • Parents, you want to enthusiastically introduce your little one to this new place:

“Look this is your new school. You’re not going to be staying here today, but in a few days I will come and drop you off and then I will pick you up again.”

  • Introduce your child to the teacher and teachers, welcome the child lovingly.
  • Allow parents to walk their child through the classroom to familiarize their child with the new environment.
  • Parents, as you walk through, point things out to your child:

“This is your cubby, where you will put your bag every day. Here is where you can keep your shoes. This is going to be your bathroom.”

  • Then Mommy, as you leave school, go over it all again:

“Do you remember where we are coming next week? And what will you do first? That’s right, put your bag into your cubby.”

  • Introduce them to how the goodbyes will go:

“You will give Mommy a hug and kiss, say goodbye and then go to your classroom to choose an activity.  And then mommy will come back to get you.”

Talking about each step not only solidifies a developing routine, it gives your child the information they need in advance to feel less anxious and more in control.

Instead of feeling separation anxiety, they will feel prepared and eager to take on something new.

Number 2: Reassurance

  • Reassure your child that they will be okay while you are away.
  • Point out the fun they will have in your absence and give them ideas of what they will be doing.
  • Acknowledge their sadness but assure them that you are coming back: “I know you are sad but Mommy is coming back in 5 minutes.” State this in a calm, matter of fact way.

Number 3: Confirm your return and give a quick goodbye

  • Come back to the classroom after 5 minutes, get down on the child’s level and give them a hug.
  • Look at them in the eyes and tell them: “You see, I told you I would be back.”
  • Tell your child you are leaving and will be back in a 2 hours to pick them up.
  • Say goodbye and keep it brief, even if the child is crying. This is the hardest part.

Most parents feel they cannot leave till their child stops crying – that won’t happen.

Your child will continue to cry as long as you are there. They will only stop crying after you have left, which means your presence only prolongs their tears.

Remember to be positive and cheerful. Your child picks up on your emotions and even your body language. “If Mom is scared of leaving me here, there must be something wrong with this place!” Do not let your child pick up these nervous cues from you.

Instead, come into school with a cheerful attitude. Point out some of the things you saw during the first visit. Remind them of the school routine that you have already been discussing with them.

Number 4: Bring something from home

Teachers, it’s a great idea to allow children to bring something from home – a family photograph or a plant.

Encourage the child to carry it into the classroom themselves and allow them to choose where it can be placed.

When they place something of their own in a new place, suddenly they feel they are a part of it and they start to develop a sense of belonging.

To keep things smooth and easy, keep a couple of things in mind.

  • Parents and teachers need to keep in close communication during this transition phase. Working together will help your child settle in faster and easier.
  • Parents – trust the school and the teachers. They are professionals. They have been doing this for years and they will give your child the comfort and reassurance they need. In time, their sense of security will develop and they will settle in easily.
  • Mommy, remain consistent with your drop off every single day. This is a big change for your little one.

I wish I could tell you it’s going to be easy and tearless, but it’s just not that simple. But you know what?

It’s all right if your child cries when you leave. This is part of their developmental process.

You’ve most likely taken a lot of pains to choose this school for your child. The teachers are going to do their very best and your child is going to do great.

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