5 Tips for Helping Preschoolers with Separation Anxiety

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Is your preschooler's separation anxiety causing YOU anxiety? Here are a few tips to help you forge ahead.

I’ve recently visited with a number of moms who are feeling anxious about their children starting preschool.  I remember when Jason started prekindergarten. As a single mom, I was stricken with grief that “my baby” was already leaving me.

So how can we make this new experience a smooth transition for everyone?

  1. Practice separation.No mom likes the feeling of their child clinging to their leg for dear life, Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me. Yet, studies show that’s exactly what you should do.  There are ways to provide the child with safe breaks from their mom. For example, take them to Sunday School. It not only teaches them about God but it’s close to the experience they will have at preschool. Or begin leaving them with grandparents more often. A study conducted by Westley School showed that children who spent routine time away from their mothers, (short spans), were more socially interactive and quicker learners. Love your child enough to help them thrive in your absence.
  2. Know the preschool facility and meet the teacher beforehand. If possible, take the child to school and let them see the face of the person who will be taking care of them. Practice the teacher’s name at home, “Mrs. Smith is so kind. She probably can’t wait to see you again.” Talk about Mrs. Smith. At bedtime pray, “And dear Lord, bless Mrs. Smith as Mary’s new teacher.” Drive by the school, “Look, there’s your fun school. Are you ready to meet lots of new friends?” Familiarity breeds comfort.
  3. Develop a goodbye ritual. Mom, you can help everyone’s separation anxiety by being positive about the experience. If there is hesitation or doubt, your child will feel it. So make it fun beforehand by playing a game at home called “School Day.” Practice waving goodbye.  (You’re probably doing this more for YOU than them.) It will sooth the ‘ouch’ when you’re doing it for real.  And remember, the reason it is painful is because it is new, but it will dissipate over time. Your goal: goodbye without tears in their presence. How you say goodbye will set the tone for their day.
  4. Make the drop off quickly. Determine beforehand that if your child cries when you leave them, to hug them, assure them you’ll be back soon and leave. Dr. Laura Horsch, a child psychologist says, “Lingering in response to crying or tantruming will reinforce the behavior. But don’t feel too guilty. Being tearful is common and natural and a normative part of healthy child development, but leave them anyway.” Mom, you can do it.  Your child will stop crying long before you do. And remember, allowing your kids to trust and be cared for by other adults, boosts their sense of community and that the world is a safe place.
  5. Have faith. We often forget that God loves our children more than we do. How is that possible? Now is the time to memorize verses that will help you as a mom, truths that will bring Christ into the moment of stress for both you and your child and provide the wisdom and peace you need to be a great mother.  
  • Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
  • Deuteronomy 13:8 – The LORD himself goes before me and will be with me; he will never leave me nor forsake me. I shall not be afraid or unsettled.
  • Isaiah 40:29 – God gives power to areas of my weakness.

So on you go, Mom! Praying for YOU as you forge ahead and mother well.

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