Separation Anxiety Tips for Preschoolers

For many children preschool is the first time they’re going to spend a considerable amount of time away from their parents.

There are new people involved in their lives, new friends to make and new rules to learn and almost all children and parents experience some form of Separation Anxiety.

These feelings are normal and mark an important milestone in your child’s learning journey – One that is almost always harder on the parents than the child!

As a parent, we can help ease the transition into preschool, allowing the experience and separation from primary caregivers to be one that is positive and successful.

Although each child’s experience of separation anxiety is different, some ways to help ease the transition to preschool for your child are outlined on the following pages.

Over the Summer:

  • Drive past the preschool. When you do, say to your child, “Look, who’s preschool is that?” or “Who is the big boy/girl who is going to preschool next year?”
  • Always be excited when you speak to your child about preschool. Be enthusiastic, and focus on some fun activities you know will interest your child.
  • Take your child shopping to choose a special big boy/girl backpack, a pair of indoor shoes, a snack bag and some new clothes.
  • Arrange to leave your child with a caregiver or friend for short periods of time and gradually increase the length of time spent away. This is the perfect opportunity to establish goodbye rituals. This can mean developing a special kiss, hug, or a saying that you repeat each time you are separated from your child.
  • Read books about going to school and talk about what might happen there. Some favorites are: The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas, The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, Maisi Goes to Preschool by Lucy Cousins, and The Night Before Preschool by Natasha Wing.

The First Day of School – 3 Year Old Program:

At Bearspaw Preschool you and your child will attend the first scheduled class together. This is a great opportunity to ease children into the preschool classroom and become familiar with a new environment.

We divide the class in half and you and your child attend one class the first week of school, before beginning regular classes the following week. This allows for an intimate introduction to your Teacher and Teacher’s Aide, as well as an opportunity to meet some fellow classmates and parents.

We’ve found that this is a great way to help reduce anxiety for both parents and the child.

Note: during this time parents will be asked to review their child’s registration and emergency contact information is correct.

Please watch for an email from your Teacher this summer to learn what date your first day of school will be.

The First Day of School – 4 Year Old Program:

The first week of school your child will attend only one day of class, before beginning regular classes the following week. We divide the class in half to allow your child to have an intimate introduction to your Teacher and Teacher’s Aide, as well as an opportunity to meet some fellow classmates.

You are invited to stay for the beginning of class or if your child is comfortable in their new environment you can get them settled and depart. At Bearspaw Preschool we recognize that a number of our 4 year old students may have already attended school or other unparented activities and their comfort level may vary so we take an approach that is appropriate for each child.

Note: on the first day of school parents will be asked to review their child’s registration and emergency contact information is correct.

Please watch for an email from your Teacher this summer to learn what date your first day of school will be.

First Regular School Day

The second week of school your child will attend class by themselves.

When you arrive you will be greeted by your Teacher and Teacher’s Aide and you will help your child hang up their coat and put on their inside shoes. You will then say good-bye and your Teacher and Teacher’s Aide will invite your child to the carpet for circle time.

A few Do and Don’t suggestions for how to make this as seamless as possible for you and your child are below.

Do : Keep your good-byes short and sweet. This is a great time to perform your simple goodbye routine.
Don’t : Hover around, prolong your departure, or come back several times.
Do : Allow your child to have a familiar object or toy from home in his/her backpack. A security toy can bring comfort. Another suggestion that works well for some children is to put a heart note in their pocket or draw one on their hand
Don’t : Sneak out. You want your child to know unequivocally that he/she can trust you.
Do : Say “I’ll be back” and if possible explain where you will be for the short time while your child is at school.
Do : Send clear messages. Your child needs to know that you expect him/her to go to school no matter how much he/she fusses or cries.
Don’t : Get upset or scold your child. Your child is already distressed, and he/she needs you to be positive and calm. It is normal for parents to feel uncomfortable too and you can manage these feelings with normal relaxation techniques (deep breathing, self talk).
Do : Arrive on time to pick up your child. Being late may increase fears and anxiety.
Don’t : Give up. If you give in, your child will have a good reason to
continue with his/her behaviour the next day you go to school.
Do : Involve the teacher. You need someone on the other end who will greet your child and ease the transition. If you are struggling please do not hesitate to give your Teacher or Teacher’s Aide a signal and they will help with the hand-off. Even if your child is crying it’s best for you to leave the building or eye sight (this is especially important in Classroom A as if your child sees you peaking in that may derail all the progress that has already been made.)
Don’t : Avoid discussing the problems with the teacher in front of the
child. It is best to find a quiet moment to talk after class.And remember….
Don’t : Be surprised if you solve the problem and it reoccurs after holidays or sick days.
Do : Believe in your child’s ability to make positive changes.

Back at home:

  • It is important to continue to be enthusiastic whenever you talk about preschool.
  • Find time to discuss what happens at school each day. Learn about the daily activities, names of new friends, etc.
  • Try to display school art on the walls for everyone to see.
  • Allow your child to phone grandparents, other relatives or close friends to tell them about his/her day at school.
  • Plan a celebration dinner to celebrate your child becoming a “big preschooler.”

We are a Team!

It’s important to note that at Bearspaw Preschool we recognize that each situation and child is unique and we are committed to working with you to meet the needs of your child. We will employ a number of different strategies to ensure that all children are successful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us to discuss your particular child’s situation.

Additional Resources:

  • Separation Anxiety in Young Children Written by Carol E Watkins MD
  • Separation Anxiety in Preschool children – No More Tears for Children
  • When Parents Leave Written by Cassandra Eccleston
  • Separation Anxiety: 15 Ways to Ease Your Child’s Fears Written by Cathryn Tobin MD (author of The Parent’s Problem Solver)
  • How to Ease Separation Anxiety for Preschoolers Written by R.L. Hanlon