Separation anxiety is a stage of development in which children become anxious, nervous, or scared upon separation from a parent and is normal in preschool and daycare. Children may cry and cling to parents at daycare center drop-off time, need a carry a security item throughout the day, and/or cry at pick up time. Separation anxiety typically peaks between the ages of 12 months and two years.
Our interview with Jennifer Brackett, intervention specialist for Little Sprouts, discusses the issue of separation anxiety in the daycare and preschool setting.
OwnADaycare: Can you give some tips to help preschool teachers or daycare providers manage separation anxiety in their students?
Jennifer Brackett: Some common strategies that parents may use to reduce the chances of their child developing separation anxiety are:
- Use babysitters occasionally beginning by six months of age to help the child tolerate short periods away from the parent and encourage them to build trust in other adults.
- Begin contact with peers by twelve months, using play dates or play groups.
- Begin some form of preschool by the age of three.
In the classroom there are things that the teacher can do to help children deal with their anxiety:
- Never criticize the child for feeling sad or anxious.
- Do not bribe the child to mask the distress for example, “if you calm down you can be my special helper.”
- Do not give excessive attention to the distress. Confidently let the child know that mom or dad will be back and tell them what you have planned for the day.
- I have on occasion made small daily schedule books for especially anxious children that they can carry with them. This way, they are able to look at the activities they have accomplished and how many activities are left before they go home.
- Play with the child and then invite another child to play with the two of you. This helps connect the child with others in the classroom.
- Don’t give up! You may think things are going along great and then after a month the child may have a day or two when they feel that anxiety all over again.
Allow them these feelings and reassure them that your classroom is still a place where they are safe and cared about.
OwnADaycare: What are some suggestions for preschool teachers or daycare providers for dealing with anxious parents?
Jennifer Brackett: As Early Childhood Educators, it is our responsibility to assist the children in our care as well as the parents through periods of separation anxiety. The most important thing that any caregiver can have to help alleviate separation anxiety is an open and honest relationship with the parent(s). This creates a sense of trust and will reduce the anxiety the parent has when leaving a child who is clearly upset. It will also demonstrate to the child that you, as a caregiver, are someone their parent trusts and this is a safe place to be. Some suggested strategies that we give parents are:
- Help the child become familiar with new surrounding and people before leaving the child there.
- Have ritual when leaving for example, read 1 book and then wave goodbye or blow kisses from the window.
- Allow the child to bring a “lovie” item to school, something that represents the parents.
- Do not give in! Let the child know that he or she will be all right and that you love them. Give a quick kiss and hug them cheerfully when saying goodbye.
- Remind children of other successes that they have had with separation, for example, when they stayed with a baby sitter or grandparent.
OwnADaycare: Do you have any additional comments or suggestions?
Jennifer Brackett: Some books that may assist children, parents and caregivers who are dealing with separation anxiety are:
The Good-bye Book by Judith Viorst
Into the Great Forest: A story for children away from their parents for the first time by Irene Marcus
Going to Daycare by Fred Rogers
I Don’t Want to Go to School: Helping Children Cope with Separation Anxiety (Let’s Talk) by Nancy Pando and Kathy Voerg
Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety or School Refusal: A Step-by-Step Guide For Parents by Andrew R. Eisen, Linda B. Engler, and Joshua Sparrow
While it is impossible to draw a clear line as to when to seek professional help, generally speaking, if the anxiety persists and/or is causing marked distress or interference in a child’s development or functioning, it is worth consulting a mental health professional, such as a Clinical Psychologist or pediatrician for advice. (separationanxiety.com.au 2007)
Some of the information above has been taken from:
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