Separation Anxiety at Drop Off
Young children thrive on routine and consistency. Slight changes in routine which seem normal or inconsequential for adultscan cause anxiety in young children,which may lead to trouble separating during a “normal” morning drop off.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of a young child’s development as s/he is learning about attachments and understanding that separation from parents is a normal part of attending school. Since young children live in the realm of reality, abstract concepts are difficult for them to comprehend and verbalize which can cause anxiety.
The concept of time such as waiting for mom or dad to pick up after work is particularly difficult for young children to understand. Transitioning from one room to another poses a challenge as can separating from a particular parent or from caregivers when parent/s may be out of town. A slight change in routine or waking up in the morning feeling under the weather can all be reasons why the young child may have a difficult time walking into the classroom and saying goodbye to the parents.
When the child has a difficult time separating from parents in the morning, it is heart-wrenching for everyone involved. When a young child has trouble separating in the morning, our teachers are there to provide support to both the parents and the child. Please be reassured that our teachers will provide comfort to the child and divert his/her attention with activities or songs. No matter how traumatic the goodbye, within a few minutes, young children are distracted by their classmates or activities and settle in for the day. Young children are extremely empathetic; when they see one of their friends in discomfort they either give their friend space or keep them company. Since Montessori classrooms are child-directed environments, this nurturing by peers is clearly evident. Our teachers are close by to console or hold the child and provide the much needed tenderness during this time of anxiety. Once the child has calmed down, s/he readily chooses work or finds an activity to work with a classmate. If you should have any concerns, please communicate that with the classroom teacher or the administrative staff at the front desk so we can keep a close eye on your child. We will be happy to give you a call later in the day to update you on your child’s morning after a tumultuous drop off.
Separation anxiety is usually intense in toddlers and typically dissipates when children enter and settle into the primary rooms. Toddlers thrive on routine and consistency; we urge you to keep your morning exactly the same each day especially if your toddler is prone to separation anxiety.
Here are a few pointers to make the morning goodbye uneventful:
- Always make goodbyes prompt and positive. Every clingy last hug and kiss inches towards having a difficult goodbye. One kiss, one hug, and one “I love you” and reassurance that you will be back soon are the perfect way to help your child start the day. Make that a routine. Feel free to create your own special goodbye routine if you wish – but it must be short with a quick kiss or a special hand gesture. Giving your child “one more kiss or one more hug” simply prolongs the inevitable. Please abide by our arrival policy – which is designed to ease anxiety during morning drop off.
- Always reassure your child that you will be back to take her/him home. Be calm and enthusiastic about the school and classmates.
- Trust your child’s teacher to help soothe your child to start his/her day. Our teachers are adept at helping children settle into the classroom for the day. They have a wealth of ideas and strategies to comfort and nurture the child and settle her/him into the classroom.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings but do reassure your child of your return after work. It is important to accept and respect your child’s temporary unhappiness as it is very real and normal. Please do not bribe or pressure your child into stop crying so s/he can get to watch TV at night or get a treat. This is a normal stage of development as the child learns to cope with sadness and the realization that although you are not here for some time, you will always return and take your child home. Your family unit is built on trust which the child is learning at this tender age.
- Please do not ever sneak out on your child. Hand your child to a teacher who can hold and soothe your child and help her/him get settled in for the day.
- If the child seems clingier to one parent than another, please switch if at all possible – especially if your child is experiencing a great deal of separation anxiety on a daily basis. Often, a child who experiences separation anxiety with one parent is absolutely fine with the other parent at drop off. You could also try having another relative, close friend or grandparent give it a try for a few days.
- Please do not linger near the doorway. We understand it is reassuring to stay and peek at your child through the window or listen at the door. If your child glances at you inadvertently, this could be extremely difficult for not only your child, but his/her classmates and classroom teachers who worked so hard to comfort the child and start a calm classroom for the day. Feel free to call us for an update on your child and we will be happy to provide you with one.
- When you have said goodbye and left the classroom, please do not re-enter the room to calm your child if you hear her/him child crying. This makes the separation much harder for your child and is traumatic. Please let the teachers soothe your child and join her/his friends for a fun day.
- Please arrive on time. All classrooms at LMS begin at 8:30 am daily. Young children prefer to walk into a classroom which has fewer kids than a classroom already bustling with lots of classmates. If your child is very anxious during morning drop off, please drop your child earlier in the morning so that s/he can settle in before the active arrivals start. As your child matures, you may not need to keep up with the earlier arrival (prior to 8:30am).
- Allow your child plenty of time to get ready in the morning. Wake her/him up earlier so as to allow more time to get dressed, eat breakfast and be fully awake for school. A consistent morning routine at home makes for a good start to the day and easier transition from home to school.
Feel free to create a visual album of your child’s activities as s/he prepares to get ready for school.
NOTE: Be prepared for regression. Just when you think your child has conquered his/her feelings of separation anxiety, along comes a long weekend, a vacation, or an illness that keeps your child home for a few days and your child is again anxious during separation. It is also normal for your child to suddenly regress even though there have been no changes in the home. As frustrating and upsetting as this can be, this is perfectly normal. Young children undergo a variety of developmental phases which may not be clearly evident to us but are most sensitive to change such as when a parent separates during drop off in the morning. Please continue using the strategies discussed above.