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Nervous about your child starting at an early learning centre or kindergarten? Many parents are. Below are some tips from a psychologist, to ensure it’s a smooth transition for your little one.
Settling in can be a challenging time for some families, perhaps because you have a sensitive, very attached child, are anxious yourself or just aren’t sure how to manage the transition.
If it makes you feel any better, you’re in good company. Child psychologist Lisa Ford from The Resilience Co says that separation anxiety is one of her most popular talks when presenting to parents. “It’s a common problem and it can be just as distressing for the parent as it can be for the child,” she explains. “It’s not easy leaving your child when they’re upset and clinging to you; it’s an emotionally difficult journey, so of course people want tips and strategies.”
Why does separation anxiety occur?
It’s actually the most prevalent anxiety condition in children under 12, mainly in the 2-3 age group and then later when children start school, says Ford. “The temperament of the child can be a significant factor; fairly confident or independent children may have no trouble at all separating from mum or dad. However, separation anxiety can affect any child.”
Ford adds that separation anxiety can occur for many reasons. “It can also be triggered by changes such as moving house, a big holiday or family changes.”
3 ways to help your child adjust
There are lots of things you can do (and things you shouldn’t!) to help prepare your child for the transition to early learning or kindergarten – and lessen the impact of separation anxiety.
- Talk about it in the right way “You want to be really positive and upbeat about this wonderful experience they’re going to have,” says Ford, “but don’t overdo it or provide too much information – children will sense if you’re feeling anxious.”
- Help them get used to being away from you “Expose your child to gradual separations, leaving them with a grandparent or family friend for an hour or two. Early learning centres allow settling in periods where the child can go for short stretches of time.”
- Encourage their independence “Time alone for your child is great. Little things like getting them to go and check the letterbox on their own or playing in the backyard on their own – while you monitor them, obviously – can be a really big factor in helping your child learn to be without you and feel safe and confident.”
What can you do to support your child?
How you react as a parent when dropping your child at an early learning centre or kindergarten is key, says Ford, and some things can exacerbate the problem.
“Going back when we see they’re upset may send the message to our children that we don’t trust them to cope,” she explains. “Another thing we might do is avoid the separation. We might think, ‘Oh it’s too difficult’ so we’ll stop sending them – but a child that’s struggling to separate actually may need more exposure to that, not less, to help them adjust.”
Try not to fall into the trap of reassuring your child too much or give too many instructions to the carer or the person you’re leaving your child with. “That can make your child overthink things and worry that mum or dad leaving is a really big deal,” says Ford.
5 rules for drop-offs and pick-ups
If your child is suffering separation anxiety, there are several things you can do to help them get through it. Below are some tips:
- Talk to the centre or kindy. Working together with your children’s teachers and educators is essential, as they’ll have been in this situation many times before and will be able to offer advice and guidance.
- Have a goodbye ritual. “Saying goodbye, in the same way, provides familiarity and comfort for your child. Rather than a hug – because they’ll cling to you – try including a kiss on the cheek or a high-five and if they’re upset, words like, ‘I can see this is tricky for you, but I know you’re going to have a great day! I’ll see you after nap time’. Children don’t have a great sense of time so give them a point of reference as to when you’ll return.”
- Be positive when you arrive. “You want to acknowledge that it’s hard for your child but also show them that you trust them to cope with it.”
- Avoid sneaking away. “It might feel like a victory at the time but what it does is create mistrust and really increases that anxiety and clinginess.”
- Try not to linger when leaving. “Keep your farewell simple, straightforward and upbeat. I know that’s so hard if your child is upset, however, show them you’re feeling calm and confident about this environment and about leaving them. Show them your smile as you walk out the door.”
At pick up time, be happy “When you walk in the door at the end of the day, smile at your child and spend extra time together while you encourage him or her to talk about their experiences.”
Looking to enrol your child in a caring and nurturing environment?
Goodstart Early Learning partners with families and children transitioning into our centres who are suffering from separation anxiety.
Talk to us about how we can help make this process easier for you and your child.
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