How to prevent toddler separation anxiety at preschool?
You gotta earn (and keep!) your child’s trust [NEW VIDEO]
A few weeks before the school year started, my husband told me we needed to talk.
“I need you to understand the most important job you have this year,” he told me. “You cannot be LATE to pick up Bibi from school.”
Now, you might argue that the most important job I have as Bibi’s mother is, you know, to keep her from getting hit by a truck, to feed and clothe her, to make sure any illness is swiftly treated — but Joe was adamant.
“You cannot be late to pick Bibi up from school!” he told me again and again as The Great First Day neared.
And I’ll admit, after two weeks of being reprimanded for something I hadn’t yet had a chance to screw up, I snapped.
“What is your deal!?” I asked him.
Here’s the thing. Joe is a teacher — and he’s a man who still carries the trauma of being left at school, waiting for his mum. He told me how his heart aches watching his students standing by the windows, waiting for a parent who fails to keep this commitment.
Minutes feel endless as they watch their friends being picked up.
Kids worry, he told me. They don’t talk about it. They keep it inside. But it comes out in insidious ways. They stop trusting the adults around them. They become anxious and tense.
You might see physical symptoms — a sudden recurrence of bedwetting, unrelenting stomachaches or general whining and neediness.
Or, your previously sweet child may suddenly become a bully, picking fights with other children, lashing out unexpectedly.
Does this mean that if you’re late one day, you’ve sentenced your child to a life of medication and crime?
Of course not.
But it means that your child is relying on you to be consistent, and to demonstrate the basic principle that your child matters to you.
Practically speaking, what can you do to alleviate anxiety and help your child feel less tense?
This is a conscious parenting gem we’ve been implementing since Bibi was at nursery…
Get these 3 simple steps (and more!) in my FREE PDF DOWNLOAD Conscious Parenting Top Tactics Checklist!
MMRT ACTION PLAN:
1. Reassure your child with words and actions.
Let your child know when you’re going to arrive — and then stick to that. Yes, life happens, and at some point during your child’s school career, you’ll probably drop the ball. What matters is consistency. If you are always on time and once in 12 years you are a few minutes late, your child will continue to believe in you.
If you are consistently late, the message you give your child — regardless of what you mean to convey — is this: “Picking you up on time isn’t a priority for me.”
2. Give your child a watch — even if she can’t tell time.
Let your child feel a sense of control over the situation. If she doesn’t know how to tell time, show her what the watch will say when it’s time for you to arrive.
Talk to her about what you’re doing during the other parts of her day.
“When you see 2:45 on your watch, Mummy is putting on her coat and getting her car keys.
When you see 3:00 on your watch, Mummy is driving past the market.
When you see 3:15 on your watch, Mummy is waiting at the traffic light just before the school.”
3. Set a time bracket rather than an exact time.
Life, traffic lights, unexpected bathroom breaks — it’s hard to hit 3:15 on the dot every single day. Set yourself up for success and give your child a time bracket rather than an exact time. “I’ll be here between 3:15 and 3:30 gives you a window and lets you always exceed your child’s expectations.
Just remember, if you say you’re going to be there between 3:15 and 3:30, then show up.
Children see everything. They notice everything. If you keep your promises, you convey reassurance to your child with every action. On the other hand, if you can’t be trusted to keep your word, your child will internalise that, too.
You can start practicing this with guaranteed follow through by starting with tiny practice separation scenarios with the help of a good neighbour friend and you’ll get to say
“see! Mama always shows up when she says she will because you are my top priority".
Starting with very short separation times will SHOW and reassure your little tiger that you DO ALWAYS come back. “I will leave you here AND I will be back in 5 minutes, SEE this is what it looks like on your watch”.
Then build it up to longer periods :) .
TO BE HONEST...
I think I found the whole separation thing harder than she did..! *sigh*.
Did YOU or your little tiger CRY MORE? Would love to hear your preschool / nursery / daycare / school transition stories!
You can do this, mama! If you need help strategising on how best to set expectations, come talk to us in the Facebook group and make sure to download this week’s checklist freebie!