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Soothing Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers

by Marnie Bii | December 4th, 2023 | Behavior, Preschool
preschool girl (400x400)

Although separation anxiety hits in full force at 18 months to 2 years of age, those frustrating feelings commonly resurface as preschoolers get ready to enter school. The newfound independence of attending preschool can make kids feel unsure, out of sorts and anxiety ridden. With a little support, these anxious times melt away just as they did before, leaving your preschooler no worse for the wear. Here’s how you can help your child cope with separation anxiety.

Go Over the Schedule

Preschoolers thrive on maintaining a solid daily routine. You can help reduce feelings of anxiety by creating and going over this routine ahead of time. Talk about school drop off and pickup times, activity blocks at school and evening plans, including dinner and bedtime stories. Make sure to talk to your child about the need to sometimes go off schedule, the process of making a new temporary schedule on the fly and ways to cope with routine changes.

Perform Practice Runs

If possible, visit the preschool several days ahead of time to look at the cubbies, activity stations, snack tables and outdoor play. Talk to the teacher about the planned activities, including art projects and games, for the first week. Preschool teachers are happy to introduce new students to the classroom and talk about the daily schedule. Your child should be given a few minutes to explore the play area on their own. This short visit will help your child visualize the school setting, which drastically reduces anxiety related to wondering about unknown factors.

Never Sneak Away

Although it may seem like it at the time, sneaking away does not make the goodbye process easier on your child. Instead, it can cause the feelings of anxiety to last all day. Long, elaborate goodbyes have the same anxiety-inducing effect. Instead, give your child a brief hug, words of encouragement and a promise to see them at the end of the day. Your words of reassurance and calm demeanor will go a long way in helping your child relax during the school day. If your child continues to have trouble, you can slip a picture of the family into his or her backpack to maintain feelings of closeness while far away.

Reinforce Positive Experiences

Separation anxiety in preschoolers may last up to four weeks after starting school. You can help it dissipate by discussing positive experiences that happened at school each day. Talk to your child about the teacher’s kind and helpful nature. Discuss the other students and help your child form close friendships. As your preschooler forges these new relationships, the anxiety about leaving your side will quickly diminish.

If your child continues to have trouble making this adjustment, you may need to involve a doctor to rule out an anxiety disorder. In general, separation anxiety that lasts longer than four weeks requires a checkup to rule out possible medical conditions. Your child’s doctor will help rule out or treat the anxiety and help find new ways to help your child cope.

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