Monday, January 25, 2016

Separation Anxiety

Are you wondering “Why the tears now?”

     The first week of school went fine.  Everyone; child, Mom, Dad, everyone, was happy, excited and loved, loved, loved preschool.  And now you’ve got a cling-on with tears.  These are much smaller than the old Star Trek warrior Klingons, and they typically are found glued to your leg. But they are feared Cling-ons just the same.

     The good news is that it is pretty normal for a child to do fine with separation in the beginning only to melt down a few weeks later.  The bad news is, it’s also pretty normal for a meltdown to appear after Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, or some major event in the family like new baby or a parent being away for a long trip.

     About October a few children who were really excited to come to preschool are starting to feel homesick.  School just keeps going on and on, and they kind of miss the good old days with the comfortable old routine.  There are mornings  when growing up feels like more than they want to handle. More than once I’ve taken a crying child on my lap and reassured them I know just how they feel – and meant it. Morning is sometimes more than I want to handle, too.

     It’s okay because there is a really simple fix.  Just bring your Cling-on child to school, walk him or her to the classroom door and then quickly walk away.

     While you walk away you will want to recite to yourself the first Preschool Principle of Absolute Truth, which is:  The speed with which a child adjusts to coming happily to preschool is directly related to the speed with which the parent leaves the school.

     The corollary to this principle is that the attitude the parent conveys while dropping a child off is directly related to the attitude of the child walking in the door.

    Parents who dawdle, waiting to see if their child is crying, will soon have a crying child.
    Parents who keep a child home who is anxious about coming to school creates a child who secretly knows mom doesn’t think school is a good place, either, because she keeps him or her home.

   Asking a child, “Are you going to be okay at school today?” is like asking your husband, “Do these pants make my fanny look fat?”  It just leaves lots of room for pondering things you really don’t want pondered.

    We know that no one knows your child and loves your child like you do. But your job is to launch that wonderful child into the world, not keep them in the nest. Probably the most important skill you can impart to your child is to teach them how to be capable.  Teaching them to be capable starts the first day of preschool.  Imbue them with confidence that they can handle this.  

    If you have a nervous child, comfort, coax, and cajole all the way to school  and then send them in the door with a smile and leave fast.  If you have business to take care of in the school office, do it when you pick your child up, not at the beginning or the school day.  Don’t linger in the parking lot or halls talking to friends.

    If you’ve got anxieties about how your child will do without you, or how you will do without them, go home and call your mother and talk about it.  But you owe it to your child to put your game face on and help them take the first steps to becoming a capable, independent member of society.

     Parents need to know that it is incredibly rare for a child to cry more than a few minutes after the parents actually leave.  The teachers and staff help sad children compassionately, and playing with other children is almost irresistible.  Usually it’s only minutes until the sad child remembers that school is pretty great. Preschoolers can handle separation, and the way the parents handle it makes all the difference.

© Diane L. Mangum  2010