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Mama Drama: Separation Anxiety Blues

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.

Mama Drama: Water Worries and Siblings~Friends or Enemies?

Dear Mama Drama:

My three year old has been taking swimming lessons every week for the past year. Since he transitioned from mom and baby classes he has struggled with separation anxiety. Even though I’m right near the side of the pool, he screams and cries. We have tried having me outside of the pool area and that was even worse. Some people have suggested I use a tough love approach, but I’m not comfortable with that.

How can I help him adjust?

~Swimming for answers

Dear Swimming:

Many children struggle with separating from their parents, especially in situations where they may feel uncertain or unsafe. While your son has been swimming for a while, it sounds like he doesn’t feel safe in the water on his own. It may be more of an anxiety about the water than separating from you.