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Mama Drama: Separation Anxiety Blues

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Dear Mama Drama:

My daughter just started preschool and cries and clings to me every time I take her. This is her first experience away from me. What can I do to help her adjust?

~Struggling to Separate

(photo credit)

Dear Struggling:

Leaving your child when they are crying and scared is one of the most heart wrenching experiences a parent can have. The multitude of emotions you experience can be overwhelming.

Heading off to school for the first time can also be a scary experience for many children. If they have never been left anywhere like school or day care previously, they have no idea what to expect. Common fears for first time preschoolers are that mom or dad won’t come back, no one will play with them, and they don’t know what to do if they have to go to the bathroom. Many young children are not yet able to express these fears verbally, so instead they cry and cling to mom or dad.

Here are a few ideas to ease your daughter’s anxiety and yours as well:

  1. Arrange a visit to the classroom and teacher(s) before school starts. (It’s ideal to do before the school year, but since you have already started thirty minutes before class should do.) Explore the room with your daughter and the teacher discovering the materials and toys that interest her and allowing her to begin developing a relationship with the teacher.
  2. Use items that she was interested in on your visit together to entice her into the classroom when she comes to school. These transition objects help children move more smoothly from one part of their day to another.
  3. Reassure your daughter you will be back to pick her up. As most preschoolers cannot tell time, you can talk with her about her routine at school and let her know you’ll see her after snack (or whatever the last activity of the day is.)
  4. Take pictures of yourself and other family members in the home to send with her to school. Laminate them (clear contact paper works great, too) so they can hold up over time. My sons loved mom and dad on one side and the brothers together on the other. (Even at seven and ten they like to keep these pictures handy in their backpacks.)
  5. Read books with your daughter about what to expect at preschool. D.W.’s Guide to Preschool by Marc Brown is a great option and includes that very important reminder that the moms and dad do come back!
  6. Speak positively about preschool and the fun things she’ll get to do each day.
  7. Try to stay calm and relaxed yourself. Keeping your anxiety down will help her to feel more relaxed as well.
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Comments
  • comment avatar Kagey February 4, 2010

    You might also want to ask the teachers how long your daughter is upset after you leave. My kids showed some separation anxiety, but the teachers informed me that they went and played less than two minutes after I was out of sight.
    It is tough to walk away when your child clings to you, but sometimes your memory of her upset face lasts longer than her crying jag actually does.

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith February 7, 2010

    Excellent point! Communication with your child’s teacher is key to understanding what is really going on. Thanks!

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