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Help your child handle their separation anxiety

Depending upon your family situation, your child may have no trouble at all transitioning to a new preschool.

However, if your little one is a certain age and has been home with you or another person as the primary caregiver for the past few years, attending a new preschool or having a new caregiver in the home all day may prove to be a difficult transition.

The good news is that most children do eventually make peace with the new order. If you did not ask the childcare provider during your interview how she handles children with separation anxiety, be sure to do so before the first day your child is in day care. In addition, there are steps that you can take to facilitate the change in routine and ensure your child is comfortable with the different setting.

Leaving the Home Care Environment

Enrolling your child in a preschool center care presents a whole set of potential adjustment concerns. Not only is the child with a new caregiver, he or she is in an entirely new environment. The more time he or she has to get used to the idea before going to the new school for the first time, the smoother the transition is likely to be.

One of the best ways to put your child at ease prior to starting your new school is to have him or her visit the school, preferably more than once, for short visits. He or she can interact with the new teacher, as well as with the other children that will be in his or her room, or not interact at all. It may take some time before your child is ready to participate with classmates, and that is all right. Your job is to be supportive of your child and not push him or her into playing with or talking to others if he or she is not yet comfortable doing so.

Some experts suggest reading books with your child about going to day care before the first day arrives. There are a lot of great books about starting a preschool. Here are some of our recommendations.  Both before and after reading together, talk about your child’s feelings. Always be reassuring, explain why this arrangement is going to be good for him or her (he or she will make friends, get to play, etc.), and above all, remain positive. Your child is likely to adopt your outlook. If you have a bad attitude about the child­care situation or your return to work, chances are good your child may feel the same.

Bedtime Routine

Another way to ease this big change in your child’s life is to invest into a good bed time routine schedule at least several days, if not weeks, before the first time at school. Grade-school-aged children typically need at least 10 or 11 hours of sleep every night; toddlers and preschoolers need even more. Determine how much time you and your child will need to unhurriedly prepare to leave each morning, and make that your child’s wake-up time. Then count backwards from that time, 10, 11, or 12 hours, depending on your child’s age and sleep pattern, and make that bedtime. Then keep to that schedule. A regular bedtime every night will help give a sense of security to a child in transition.

Try to spend a few minutes with your child at bedtime; singing songs, reading a book, or just talking (or listen as your child shares feelings about the new school). Not only will these become cherished moments for both of you, but the dependability of the routine will help your child deal with feelings of uncertainty about starting a new preschool.

Preparing for the Big Day

When packing up for the first day, you could encourage your child to pick out a special item to bring. Be sure to check with the director first, to see if there are items they will not allow. A good facility will have space to store this belonging, and should not have a problem with him or her bringing a blanket or a toy that does not pose a hazard to others. Also pick out a picture or help your child make a small photo album or scrapbook that he or she can look at during the day. Your child may even come up with his or her own ideas for making the first day more enjoyable.

The transition to your new preschool setting may go more smoothly if you can take it in small steps. If possible, consider bringing your child in for an hour or two the first time. Of course, if you are beginning a new job and cannot take time off, spending time with your child in the school will not be an option. One way around this would be to go into the facility an hour earlier than you normally would for the first several days, to give your child time to become accustomed to the surroundings. If you do this, however, you will want to move bedtime up an hour as well, so that your child still gets the necessary amount of sleep.

On the big day, when it is time to leave your child with the teacher and make your way to work, reassure your child that you will return at a specific time (such as after lunch, after naptime, or some other time that your child will understand). Try, with the teacher’s help, to get your child interested in an activity. Then you should leave. Your little one may show some distress, and it is perfectly all right to give your child a big hug, but it also may be necessary in explaining that you have to leave. If your child remains resistant to your leaving, the teacher should take over and allow you to go. Of course, you can check in and see how your child is doing during the day!

Dealing with Separation Anxiety

A pattern of separation anxiety may repeat for more than a week or two. It is important not to react strongly to your child’s anxiety by becoming impatient, or by showing that his or her behavior is upsetting you. Keep communicating with your child’s teacher and the director to see if your child remains agitated for a good part of the day or if the tears dry up shortly after you leave. If the situation does not seem to resolve itself quickly, and the pattern continues for more than a couple of weeks, it will be necessary to examine the childcare setting to see if there is more than just separation anxiety.

In some cases, it is not your leaving the day care facility that is traumatic for your child, but simply arriving at the center or home with your child triggers the distress. Once a tantrum becomes a regular morning activity, it may be a difficult habit to break. If your child acts out in your presence but calms down once you leave, one possible answer might be to have someone else take your child to day care for several days. Most parents are familiar with the phenomenon of the child who is a little angel for everyone but his or her own mom or dad. Having a third party drop your child off (if you have a close friend or relative who can do this for you) may help to cut off the custom of throwing a fit at the school door.

Even if your child is adjusting fantastically to the new childcare situation, your continued involvement in their day, whenever possible, will help to keep your child happy and secure at the center or family care home. If your childcare is close to work, perhaps you can have lunch together on the same day or days during the week. Even if it is hard to visit on a regular basis, visiting periodically to bring a special snack to your child or read a book to the class will reinforce that you have not forgotten f just because you are apart.