Regardless of where you're going, anytime you leave your young child, there is a chance of tears. Separation anxiety is normal and expected from ages 6 months to 4 years (and sometimes beyond). In babies, it is a result of the development of "object permanence" which means that the baby understands that something exists, even when its not there. As children grow, separation anxiety can be caused by other factors. Anxiety in children often turns into control and that can make separating tough. Not only is your child sad because you are leaving but there is frustration because he couldn't make you stay.
Its all normal but that doesn't make it easier when the preschool teacher is having to pry your child off of your leg every morning.
With an anxious child who is anywhere from 18 months to 5 years, a great tool is to make a "plan" with your child. This does two things:
1. It prepares your child for the separation.
2. During the separation, it reminds your child that you are coming back.
Here's how to do it:
Find a calm time with your child (not right before bed or when he is tired) and agree to make a plan together. Get a dry erase board or a piece of paper. You could even buy a cute "Make a Plan" notebook that is dedicated to all of your plans.
Talk about what will happen. The day before or morning of the separation is probably best. Then, write is all down.
Today, Meghan is going to preschool! She will have lots of fun with her friends and teachers.
9:00 - Mommy will drop off Meghan at preschool. Ms. Paige will help Meghan get out of the car and walk in.
9:30 - Mommy will go to the bank.
10:00 - Mommy will go to the grocery store.
10:30 - Mommy will go home and unload groceries.
12:00 - Mommy will come get Meghan!
Its as easy as that. Meghan, being 3 years old, has no concept of time. This plan provides her with a timeline and she knows Mommy is coming back. The plan can go into preschool with Meghan so if she is feeling nervous, her preschool teacher can review it with her. It doesn't matter that Meghan can't read but if you think your child would benefit from pictures beside the words, by all means, draw them.
Making a plan works for many situations - babysitters, weekend with grandma, and daycare. It is worth the effort and your anxious child will thank you someday.
Let Them Fly!