4 Strategies to Reduce Separation Anxiety in your preschooler.
Separation anxiety is not uncommon in preschoolers. Even if they have been at daycare for most of their childhood, the new school, new teachers, along with their developing mind can make it hard for them to adapt to the transition. Below are 4 simple strategies I have found can really help kids who are struggling with separation anxiety.
Predictability: Use A Picture Schedule
Preschool age kids struggle with the concept of time. That is why on their birthday they will talk about their last birthday as if it happened yesterday. Schedules give your preschooler some predictability in their day which in itself helps reduce anxiety. They also help your child see that they are getting closer to going home. In my work with kids, I have seen anxiety melt away by simply reviewing what their day will look like and showing them the part of the day when their mom or dad will be there to pick them up.
Your preschooler’s teacher hopefully already has a classroom daily schedule, but if not it might be helpful to ask them if they would consider adding one or if you can make and laminate one they can carry with them through their day.
Consistency: Create a hello and goodbye ritual
Having solid rituals goes back to tip number 1. Consistency and predictability help preschoolers gain a better understanding of what to expect which can reduce or eliminate anxiety. When you are dropping your little one off at school, avoid just saying goodbye and quickly handing off to the teacher. Try to create some kind of ritual that you consistently use to say goodbye. It can be as elaborate as a secret handshake or as simple as a hug, but it should be done about the same each time. Similarly, at pick up time, having something you two do to say hello can assist with building a connection and gives your child something to look forward to at the end of their school day.
Teach Skills: Use Books to Ease Anxiety
Books are a great way to teach skills to your child and can give you a strategy to use in the future to ease anxiety. For difficulties with saying goodbye to a parent, my two favorites are The Kissing Hand and The Invisible String. Both provide solid strategies you can use with your preschooler to ease their anxiety as you are going to leave them at school.
Foundations: Take Care Of HALT
H-A-L-T is an acronym often used in the addiction world in order to help those suffering with the disorder to understand some factors that can make it harder to avoid relapse. It is also helpful in teaching parents how to avoid tantrums or, in this case, anxious meltdowns when their little ones are dropped off at school. The halt acronym can be found below. One thing to consider as you read: all of these should be looked at on a spectrum. Someone can have trouble with loneliness if they are around people too much and never get time to decompress just as much as someone who needs quality time, but is not getting enough.
H – Hunger: Make sure your child has had a filling, nutritious meal before they head to school. Hanger applies to preschoolers just as well as it does to anyone else.
A – Anger: Make sure your routine prior to school has done it’s best to keep from being too chaotic. A stressed preschooler is already halfway to tantrum land. This might mean waking up 15 minutes earlier to keep your stress about being late at bay. It also might mean doing some prep work the night before so clothes are ready, lunch is packed, and baths are done.
L – Loneliness: Kids need quality time with their parents. Spending time connecting with them will help fill their need for healthy attachment and will ultimately help them to trust that their parent is going to pick them up after school.
T – Tired: Preschoolers need at least 11-13 hours of sleep every night and many need an additional hour or 2 nap during the day. That means if they are getting up with you at 7 am, they should be asleep by 8; meaning bed by 7 or 7:30.
A couple additional strategies I have found to be effective.
- Give them a picture of you they can carry around with them. Having a picture of you they can carry around sometimes can reassure kids as they worry about their parent.
- Create a social story they can read before and during school to help them remember their parents will be back to get them. Social stories are home made books that can be made to discuss issues specific to what your child is going through. Using real pictures makes these even more helpful. A social story about school drop offs might start with their morning routine, followed by school drop off, fun things they do at school, a picture of them and their parent at pick up time, etc. These kinds of stories help to give your child a reassuring inner dialogue that helps them to cope with anxiety.
If you feel you have tried all of this, but it still isn’t getting better and you would like to talk with me for a free 20 minute consultation to see if counseling might be helpful, you can click the “get started now” button below or call me at 513-646-9708.