Anxiety according to Webster’s dictionary is vague unpleasant emotion that is experienced in anticipation of some (usually ill-defined) misfortune. Now going to school or daycare is not an unfortunate event. However, it can be very emotional and different for children and parents. Some children have always had separation anxiety from the get go. Other children feel their parent’s anxiety and start to stress the same.
We had talked about it for two weeks. We discussed how we were returning to school and work. I had no reason to think the two-year-old was going to have a breakdown and tantrum upon returning to school. Maybe it was my stress about returning to work with a second child. Maybe it was a change in pace after 6 weeks off even though he has been in care himself since 6 weeks old.
But the tears and screaming came in full force. My heart broke, I wanted to run and pick him up and tell him we didn’t have to continue with life and could just cuddle all day. But that wasn’t what either of us needed.
What we both needed was a plan and a follow through that would work best for everyone involved. Just like with everything in life there is no one perfect approach. One child a picture of the family can ease the anxiety. Another child a schedule of the events being discussed upon arrival and correlate with pick up works. With my oldest child it was having a routine and a morning connection that was just his and mine. We have the same talk and hug, affirmation, and pump up every drop off.
Consistency is the best medicine in my opinion when dealing with anxiety. Even a toddler likes to know what to expect and how his/her day is going to go. It is also important to validate the child’s emotions. Children don’t just develop an anxiety without some minor fear. Is one parent gone a lot? Is a parent deployed? Has another child been added to the family? Have the home schedules changed? All these events can cause a child to feel loss or abandoned leading to a child to fear separating from the parent. Allow a child to have feelings but give them the tools and resources to self soothe and understand that you will be returning to them.
One of the biggest influences of the child’s anxiety can be us the parents. Children are natural feelers. They can usually tell we are having a rough go before we even realize it. So it is no shock that they feel a parents anxiety about a situation. It is also hard for us to bottle it up and pretend like we are all smiles at drop off. However, for our little ones drop off with positivity, a smile, and a plan. Then when you get to the car have your moment. (no one is judging. We all need a good cry here and there)
Here is a great resource to help with the do and don’t of dropping off a child with separation anxiety.
Advanced Prekindergarten Teacher
Child Success Advocate