Simple strategies on how to deal with separation anxiety among preschoolers
Change is never easy for adults, most times, let alone for preschoolers. As our little ones transition to preschool, leaving the security of our homes, the process can be a tough one for them and us. Added to this, over the past two years, Covid-19 has impacted all our lives, especially that of children, in many ways.
As we slowly return to some sense of normalcy in our lives, we are now possibly looking at ways to deal with separation anxiety in kindergarteners. With the Covid-19 lockdown, our children have become accustomed to having us around at all times. For some of them, it is all that they know. We have all navigated through these uncertain times together as a family. Now, as the country opens up, in addition to general anxiety, our preschoolers may experience separation anxiety when separated from their families after months of being together. As parents, we will have to be prepared to face this separation anxiety post lockdown and identify ways of easing separation anxiety in preschoolers. One has to prepare them to be ready to step out into the world, away from us- possibly for the first-ever!
Before we discuss separation anxiety strategies for child care, let’s understand what is separation anxiety in child development.
What is separation anxiety in preschoolers:
Separation anxiety in early childhood is the fear your little one experience of being away from you or any caregiver they are used to having around constantly. Separation anxiety after starting preschool may cause your preschooler to worry that something unpleasant may happen in your absence or feel lost in their new surroundings.
Causes for separation anxiety:
Here are some of the causes for separation anxiety in toddlers or preschoolers:
- every new challenge can be overwhelming and stressful. This can make them feel conflicted and anxious about situations where they are away from parents,
- large gatherings or new environments can make them anxious as they may fear losing you in such settings,
- sudden changes to their environment,
- they struggle to understand the concept of time,
- leaving them alone in a room could cause anxiety as such stretches are, for them, probably the longest they have been away/ alone from their caregiver,
- they believe their survival is dependent on the caregiver, who being close by provides familiarity and security
At what age does separation anxiety begin?
A common aspect of your child’s development, separation anxiety, mostly happens between 6 months- 3 years. With age, it can wane off, but similar such feelings may linger or return for short spells. For instance, your preschooler maybe accustomed to day-care or kindergarten on their own. However, when they fall sick or are under some stress, it is common for them to cling to you.
As every child is unique, there is no set timeframe for when such feelings would appear or disappear completely in our preschoolers. Though separation anxiety is seen mostly in younger preschoolers or toddlers, with all the stress and uncertainty owing to Covid-19, such behaviours may be seen in older children too.
Signs of separation anxiety
Wondering how to tell if your toddler has separation anxiety? Here are some signs of separation anxiety in preschoolers:
- experience fear or restlessness when they realize they are or will be alone or separated from familiar caregivers,
- refuses or reluctant to attend preschool or daycare,
- goodbyes are filled with screams and tears,
- throws tantrums when separated from family or loved ones,
- may resist other new caregivers,
- feels worried when away from family or familiar caregivers,
- seeks constant reassurance,
- complains of headaches, nausea, or experiences sleeping difficulty
Strategies for separation anxiety in child care
Starting preschool or transitioning back to one is a big deal. As parents, we play a vital role in preparing our preschoolers for this new experience. It is a process that will take time, planning, and a lot of patience.
Here are some activities to manage separation anxiety in your preschooler:
1. Communication is key: Build excitement about preschool. Talk to them about all the fun things they will learn, and the games they will play with their friends. If your preschooler is returning to preschool, remind them about the fun they experienced earlier. This will help them to associate the place with happiness instead of fear or anxiety.
2. It is important to let them know why you will be away during the day. Maybe fill them in on some of things you will probably be doing when you are back at work like them. Emphasize that you will be back together again soon. Talk to them about the changes that lie ahead. More importantly, reassure them that both of you will be safe even when apart.
3. Listen to your preschooler: Having conversations will encourage your preschooler to communicate their needs and feelings. Take the worries they express seriously. It is important to validate their feelings. Let them know that it is ok for them to feel what they are feeling. Actively consider ways to address their concerns regardless of the source of their worries.
4. A routine helps: similar to the lockdown routine you have been following or did with your preschooler, establishing one that mirrors their preschool routine as much as possible can be useful. Reintroduce old routines into the mix gradually. Take it easy. Make sure you change things one at a time so that you don't overwhelm your little one. The gradual transitions will help them get back into their old routine comfortably in time.
Introduce such routines atleast a few weeks before preschool begins. It will provide preschoolers with some structure, consistency, and predictability. This will help give them some clarity of what to expect with this upcoming change.
Together watch Kutuki’s ‘Good Morning’ that will encourage your preschooler to follow similar routines as shown in the video! For more such encouraging preschooler focused stories, songs, and rhymes, download the Kutuki kids learning app today
5. Build knowledge about the preschool: For first- time preschoolers, help them understand what to expect from a preschool. For those returning, remind them of the happy memories from preschool and the fun they had. If possible, it would be great for you to (virtually) visit the preschool with your little one. This will give them an opportunity to get acquainted with teachers and observe their soon-to-be environment. This would also give them an idea of what a normal day at preschool would look like. Thus, boosting your child’s confidence.
Have your preschooler watch Kutuki’s ‘Kutu and Ki Go to School’ and get your little one excited about starting school. Check out the Kutuki kids learning app for more songs and stories for your preschooler.
6. Practice separation: start being away from your child for short periods of time. These small moments of separation will eventually help with the bigger separation that will happen when they start preschool, or you have to return to the office more regularly.
Developing a consistent ritual for leaving can help with the separation process. This helps create familiarity when it comes to the transition. Reassure your preschooler that the separation is temporary. If you are unable to physically leave to practice separation, giving your child more independent playtime can also help with the process.
7. Instil optimism and empathy: Kids tend to pick up on our anxiety. Being positive usually helps children settle and fare better. Get them excited about the adventure that lies ahead, friends they will meet, and encourage them to share what they are looking forward to the most.
Every child has had a different lockdown experience. Talk to your preschooler about this. Remind them that there might be other children who are as or more nervous than them to be starting school. Encourage them to include and interact with more friends when they start school. Instilling empathy and being able to acknowledge others’ feelings will help your little ones develop their socio-emotional skills.
Watch Kutuki’s ‘Friendship Song’ to your little one how being a good friend makes a lot of difference to someone else! Download the Kutuki kids learning app today for more such calming stories for preschoolers download.
8. Introduce self-calming techniques: Teaching your preschooler self-soothing activities can make a huge difference. When they feel emotional, encourage your little one to practice deep breathing and belly breathing. Regular practice will help them manage their anxiety and bring it down themselves.
9. Catch up with old friends: Being able to meet all their friends one fine day can overwhelm your preschooler. Due to lockdown restrictions, children have been unable to meet up with their friends. Before starting preschool, encourage your child to slowly get back into the world and possibly meet old friends. Being mindful of the Covid-19 protocols, have them mix and mingle as much as possible. Allow them to be free and experience some amount of anxiety-free separation.
10. Role play it: Get creative and use your child’s love for role plays to address any anxieties your preschooler maybe experiencing. Act out common preschool scenarios or whatever aspect it is your child wants to lead with around these themes. It’s also a great time to teach your preschooler some basic social skills.
11. Keep calm: You need to model a calm demeanor as your preschooler can pick up on your emotional cues. Leading with your anxiety will only fuel anxiety in your little one. It is good to be proactive but in a calm way. One must remember that all strategies and conversations carried out to address separation anxiety must come from a place of understanding and compassion. Answer their questions. More importantly, even when you are not feeling calm, act calm.
From a more positive perspective, separation anxiety indicates a healthy bond between your preschooler and you. It is not easy for you to be dealing with all this uncertainty and anxiety. Neither is it easy on your little one. So allow time for adjustment. If your child is having trouble separating, don’t sweat it. All they need is some time, support, and patience to adjust and get on. However, if your preschooler experiences excessive distress, disturbed sleep, physical complaints, or severe meltdowns continuously when faced with separation- do seek help.
Kutuki recognizes that each child can have a mood and mind of their own. The Kutuki early learning platform builds love and engagement with content among preschoolers using interactive elements through a mixture of creative song and story-based curriculum. Through both assisted online preschool programs and unassisted, self-paced modes of learning, the platform provides preschoolers an immersive experience that focuses on the child’s emotions in addition to addressing important learning milestones.
A slow transition now will help your preschooler in the long run. More importantly, do remember that kids are more resilient than we think they are.