Separation anxiety – How to make morning drop-off easier?

by Monica Wadeja, Postgraduate Researcher and Preety Sehgal, Development & Mentoring Manager, , Chrysalis Group of Early Learning Centres

A heart wrenching moment for all parents is dropping their child crying at a daycare each (or some) mornings. Hearing their cries as we leave can be traumatizing and an equally stressful experience for the children. This separation anxiety is a natural experience and occurs to all of us when we are separating from loved ones. It can be just a bit more over whelming for children and they cry louder and harder as they have learnt that crying helps get their needs acknowledged and known.

Older children handle separation much better than the younger ones. Separation feels so scary because little ones are still in the process of learning that Mummy and Daddy will come back later. This is difficult because people or objects they cannot see or touch right now, feel as if they have disappeared forever. This is why young children often carry their favourite teddy everywhere, to make sure it is always in sight and with them at all times.

These meltdowns, crying and screaming can be treated as a ‘common’ occurrence – that children cry when their parents leave. But, this doesn’t mean everything is okay and it certainly does not mean that you as a parent should accept this and simply ‘get over it’. There are some simple things we can include in our routines that will help your child settle well and make it easier for you to leave with a cheerful goodbye.

A typical daycare drop-off scene of our founding director in 1973!!!

So what can we all do to help?

  1. Take your time: If you are new to day care drop-offs, remember your child is still settling in and will eventually settle but this may take a few days or a few months depending on your child’s personality and age. Also, some children remain upset and unsettled for long periods whereas some get over it quickly. But if your child has been to daycare for a long time and has recently started to cry then please talk to the teachers to know about any changes like transition into another room, a new teacher, a friend leaving or see what has changed in your routine during drop offs.
  1. Free trial sessions: While enrolling, use the advantage of free introductory sessions offered by some centres. It is also a good chance to see teachers skills and strategies in action as they support you and your child. Here at Chrysalis, Magic Kingdom, Milky Way and Fern Garden our free introductory sessions can go on for as long as you like (all week if you need) to ensure that both you and your child feel absolutely settled with us.
  1. Start small then build up: If possible start sessional services (e.g.  2- 4 hours at a time). This way children experience smoother drop-offs and can be comforted by the fact they will be going home together at lunch-time or are only staying for some fun in the afternoon.
  1. Avoid the morning rush: Get a routine so that mornings can be relaxed, loving, fun and precious time together. Along with creating an entire morning routine (from wake-up all the way through drop-off) you can also make a special goodbye ritual.
  1. Something special: Come up with a secret handshake that only the two of you know, sing a song together or draw a secret message on the hand for your child to look at during the day. Morning routine or drop-off routine can soothe your child and give them a sense of comfort that they might not otherwise have.
What's your "secret handshake" with your child?
  1. Stay a bit longer if you can: If you know your child has not slept well, caught cold or is teething, be prepared to spend some extra time dropping off that day. Calling work and letting them know you will be settling your child and coming to work a bit later will be appreciated by your boss/colleagues and above all your child. This will also lower the feeling of anxiety you will have throughout the day if you leave your child behind crying.
  1. Talk about daycare: Talk regularly about the fun things your child can do at day care or the fun times they have with friends and teachers. Talk about the water play, blocks, toys, messy play, cooking and baking and all those rich experiences so your child looks forward to going there the next day.
  1. Trust the Teachers: They are one of the main reasons why you chose your child’s daycare center. The teachers are not only qualified to work with young children but also to provide the loving care that you want your child to have while you’re away. Remember this when you drop off your child. You aren’t abandoning your child or leaving them with just anyone. You’re dropping them off with people who truly care and are committed to partnering with you help in these crucial early years of setting foundations for lifelong learning, resilience to handle anything, and confidence to take on anything.
  1. Try to look cool!: Remember to be happy yourself. Many a time’s a parents’ sadness or anxiety is felt by the child and they respond in their own way by crying and holding on to you. The more comfortable parents look, the more comfortable your child will feel.
There's always a chance that your super bright child wont pick up on your body language?
  1. Make normal drop offs short and sweet: It’s tempting to linger when you drop your child off – especially if they are feeling tearful. Walking half-way out of the room and turning back for one more kiss and hug isn’t always helpful. While it may seem like the right thing to do, it can actually have the opposite effect. Also do not apologize for leaving your child. You are not doing anything wrong, in fact you are part of the ~98% or so preschool children in NZ who are engaged in ECE before school starts at 5 years of age, and you are ensuring that your child is safe, having fun, making friends and getting the best start in life.
  1. Peak in on them: Our “Kid-Cam®” allows parents to view their children from the reception of some of our centres. We often see relief and smiles on parents’ faces, after they have had that little bit more reassurance that their child is perfectly OK within a minute or two of them leaving, as they observe our amazing experienced teachers engage children in an activity, read a book or start a mat time. Once the activities start, your child will tune in to the day care rhythm and build the kind of confidence and resilience that our director received way back in 1973!!

We as teachers understand that handling separation anxiety is a significant learning curve for children. We strive to build strong relationship with our children, so they know that their child care centre is a safe place for them. We do this by acknowledging and respecting children’s feelings, as well as providing the love and care whenever they need it. There are also plenty of cuddles that seem to cure everything like magic! Once we also used daily routines to help older children estimate when Mummy would return and what we could do in the meantime. These little things help our children to understand that even when things get scary in life, there is always a way to cope.

We believe that together we are fostering positive social and emotional well-being that our children will continue to carry throughout their future explorations. As this trust grows, we see our children grow to be more confident and independent.

It is natural to worry when your children are away from you, but please believe in your awesome parenting and be reassured that you have researched widely, looked at community and parent feedback, read ERO reports, spent time with teachers and selected a safe, fun and caring place for your child and your family, which has been trusted by over 1000 families before you.

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