Easing Pre-School Separation Anxiety

5 min read

Written by Pradeep


Preparing your child for the first day of pre-school may seem like a herculean task for both the parents and the child. Whereas a child is apprehensive of the new environment, parents generally end up wondering whether their child is ready for it yet. Though you manage to make your little one brush, wash, dress and then buckle up the seat belt, you know that the struggle will actually begin with the ‘good-bye’ the parting kiss and the hug. With a heavy heart you drop your ward off, knowing what exactly is coming your way. Things get even more difficult when your Pre-schooler cries at drop offs, throws a tantrum, clings to you begging not to be left or simply refuses to part.
preschool anxiety
Read more on preparing your child for pre-school here.

What Is Pre-School Separation Anxiety?

Infants less than 6 months of age do not have separation anxiety – as long as their basic needs are met, they are happy and content. However, fear or separation anxiety starts to show signs from 6-7 months onwards, when babies start recognizing and forming bonds with people who they see around them regularly. Children form strong bonds with their parents, especially with their mothers, which is why parting with them can be very difficult for the child. Separation anxiety is a very common and natural phenomenon in kids. They start developing this anxiety when they are around 8 months, when they start feeling that objects and people exist even when they are out of sight. The moment a baby feels his mom or dad are not to be seen around, he starts panicking. Young kids do not understand the concept of time, so they do not understand when the parents will be back. They would do anything to prevent the parents from ‘disappearing’ which results into clingy, crying babies who resist attention from everyone else. It becomes more severe as the child grows up and takes the form of pre-School separation anxiety when the child is sent to school, during the time they are 3-4 years old. Pre-school separation anxiety affects both, the parent sand the child.

What Causes Pre-School Anxiety?
  1. Lack of familiarity and security: Kids feels safe with their parents. Being separated creates a fear in their minds, which is difficult to shake off. The place is unfamiliar, the faces are new, the sense of comfort is lost, and the child starts feeling left out. This can be eased by taking the child to the pre-school a few times before the d-day. Let him explore the surroundings, meet the teachers, know where the play areas are, and thus develop a sense of familiarity
  2. Estimate of time: Kids are bad at estimating time. Now you might say that a few hours is a few hours indeed, but for a young chap, a few minutes or three hours is the same thing
  3. Fear: Kids fear that something might happen to them or the ones they love. The uncertainty involved with separation is the cause of the fear. Many young children have the fear that the parents will not return to pick them up and take them back. This can make your child extremely clingy
  4. Attachment: Bonds between a ward and parents are way too strong during the initial stages of life. Your little one depends on you for everything, he cannot imagine his life without you even for a few seconds
  5. Attention: In an unfamiliar surrounding, the kids may not get the same attention as they are used to get at home. The shift from one caregiver devoted to them to a caregiver looking after many other people is difficult to digest. They tend to feel isolated and alone

Preschool separation anxiety

Pre-school Separation Issues

Parents are at the receiving end of Pre-school anxiety. The level of anxiety may vary from child to child but there are some common pre-school anxiety issues that persist everywhere.

  1. Not letting go: The child refusing to let go of the parent is natural due to the strong relationship. The child can become very stubborn in some cases causing a lot of chaos
  2. Refusing to go to school:Very often the child refuses to go to school, as they don’t like it there. They insist on not attending school by citing various issues faced by them
  3. Complains about feeling sick: In order to avoid school the child might even complain about having a stomachache or a headache
Strategies To Deal With Pre-school Separation Anxiety

If dealt with carefully, this problem can be easily resolved. There are a few pre-school separation anxiety strategies that parents must follow in order to ensure a easy drop off.
Preschool separation

  • Creating goodbye routines: Creating a good-bye routine with your child will help. Best is a short and crisp bye, accompanied with a reassuring kiss. The sooner the kid starts understanding that a good bye is followed by the parent going away for sometime, the more it will help the child. Avoid sneaking out on him
  • Get them acquainted to unfamiliar surroundings: In order to avoid the panic that the ward might face on the first day of pre-school, getting him acquainted to his new pre-school can help. This will help him to adapt to the new surroundings much quickly
  • Help them fight the fear by motivating them: Remind them of all the times that they were scared to try out things and how they managed to overcome their fear. Assure them that Pre-school will be fun and interesting
  • Let them carry a transitional object: A favorite toy, a car or any stuff toy can help them form some kind of association when they feel left out. Let the kid carry his favorite object from home to feel at ease
  • Introduce the kid to the school and teachers beforehand: This technique will prevent the child from feeling abandoned. If the child knows the teachers or has seen the school, he will find it easier to adjust. Once you introduce your child to the teacher step back, and let the child strike an independent rapport with the teacher. Take him on the school tour, let him know where are the toilets, where are the play areas, and where is the pantry
  • Involve him in pre-school shopping preparations: Buying a bag that has their favorite cartoon character on it, a water bottle they like and such small things will help the child adjust to the idea. Talking to them about the school and the activities to create an excitement in them. The child must look forward to attending school
  • Do not make false promises: It is absolutely essential for parents to not lie to their wards. Promising that they will be back soon or will be waiting for the kid (when they don’t plan to stay) will make the child more restless. Be frank and tell them that you will be gone and be back only after a few hours

All said and done, it is extremely important for the parent to be strong. Having a weak moment will be like feeding your child’s anxiety. Being brave will help you and ward to succeed through this ordeal and fight the separation anxiety.


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