Tips for Reducing Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers

Starting school can be exciting and intimidating for students of all ages, but especially for very young children.

As a parent, you can rest assured that separation anxiety when starting school is a normal part of child development and that it may show up on the first day for some kids, or emerge later in the school year for others.

One early childhood expert explains that preschoolers get anxious about school because it’s an unfamiliar environment where they don’t know what to expect, and they find themselves surrounded by people they don’t know, without the comforting presence of Mom or Dad.

Let’s take a look at some ways to take the stress out of school time and make it a happier occasion for you and your child.

Be Prepared

If your child knows ahead of time that school is coming and that it’s something to look forward to, it may be a little easier. Familiarity goes a long way toward easing those first-day jitters.

  • Talk to your child about preschool before it starts. Tell them they’ll get to make lots of new friends, play games and learn lots of cool things from the teacher. Talk about school as a fun experience to look forward to, like birthdays or holidays, instead of a chore to be dreaded.
  • Introduce some of the activities your child will experience. For example, if your child likes to color at home, tell them they’ll get to use crayons and paper to create all kinds of exciting artwork at preschool.
  • Visit the preschool with your child a few times. Introduce your child to the teacher if possible, and let them explore the classroom and interact with future classmates if they are present.
  • Ask the teacher how they handle the transition to preschool for kids having a difficult time and ways you can help with that transition.

Be Kind and Quick

It’s generally not a good idea to linger for too long when dropping your child off at preschool. A short transition from car to classroom actually helps your child get the day started more smoothly.

  • Reintroduce your child to the teacher if they have already met. Your endorsement of the teacher reassures your child that this is an adult they can trust.
  • Say a loving goodbye and leave promptly. Step back to allow your child to begin forming a relationship with the teacher.
  • NEVER sneak away or leave without saying goodbye. It makes kids feel abandoned.
  • Don’t get upset if the child gets upset, clings to you, or doesn’t want to participate at first. Reassure your child that you will come back at the end of the day, and when you do come back, remind your child that you kept your word.
  • Let your child bring a comfort object from home. A favorite stuffed animal, blanket or book can make this new place seem a little less intimidating.

Be Positive

By the way, it’s completely normal if you as a parent feel a little nervous about dropping your child off at preschool for the first time. So give yourself a little pep talk and remind yourself how important this is for your child.  

Also, remember that young children take emotional cues from their parents. If your child sees you displaying positive feelings about school, he or she will likely feel better about it, too.

  • Likewise, don’t show anxiety about school or guilt about leaving your child there.
  • Don’t be ambivalent, or act like school is “no big deal.”
  • Never compare your child’s reaction to others. Remember, some kids will cry on the first day of school, while others won’t, and both are okay!

Be Consistent

Adjusting to school is really a process, not a one-time event. Learning how to work through the discomfort and adapt to new situations is an important part of your child’s development, so dealing with first-day anxiety can be a positive experience if it occurs in a safe, supportive, loving environment, both at home and in the classroom.

Establish a familiar school-day routine to help your child get into a rhythm.

  • Make sure your child gets enough rest the night before.
  • Serve a nutritious breakfast that morning.
  • If your child will be taking lunch or snacks, prepare them ahead of time.
  • Have clothes, shoes, socks and school supplies ready to go.
  • Have a special goodbye ritual, such as a special handshake or high-five.

Little Sunshine’s Playhouse & Preschool® helps out with the drop-off routine with our Red Carpet Service™. Offered between the busy hours of 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., a staff member will greet your child with a friendly smile and take them to class when they get out of the car. It helps to make drop-off time quick, easy, fun and predictable for you and your child. Plus, having a trusted adult waiting at the door reduces feelings of abandonment when it’s time for Mom or Dad to go.

To learn more about our Red Carpet Service™ and other distinctive services for families, contact a Little Sunshine’s Playhouse® near you today!