Handling separation anxiety

Handling separation anxiety

The transition from home to school is a rather difficult one for many toddlers. When children are faced with new situations, they react with reluctance and shyness.

Preschool, for many kids, is the first time when they are separated from their parents for a long period. Since they are not accustomed to spending time away from their parents, children will need help and time to settle into their new environment.

Do all children behave in the same way when faced with separation?

Children react in different ways to the same situation. Some children will settle in easily, usually by the end of the first or second day but get upset and tearful later. Other kids may show distress openly on the first day itself and may take longer  to settle down. This will vary with the personality and temperament of each child. Even though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be unsettling.
Most children attending preschool for the first time will be restless. This means children attending playgroup and nursery and in some cases junior KG, will definitely need parental support at home and a friend in a teacher.

How can I tell if my child has settled in?

A child is deemed as well-adjusted when he/she has formed a relationship with an adult in the new environment. The child looks for that person when he/she arrives, goes to them for comfort, and is seen to be pleased to be spending time with the adult. The child is also familiar with where things are and is pleased to see other children and participate in activities.

How to help children settle in

*Before a child starts to attend preschool, a teacher should employ a variety of ways to provide his/her parents with information. Conduct a parent orientation session for them

*Encourage the parent to visit school with the child for a few days before the sessions begin

*Suggest to the parents to prepare their child for school

*Let the first month at preschool be a settle-in period for all children. Allow children to settle in at their own pace

*Explain the process of settling-in with his/her parents and invite them to enrol with the school to help children settle into the new environment

What is the suggested first month schedule for the children and parents?

First week: For the first week, allow parents to attend sessions with their child. This will give the child time to familiarise himself / herself with school. Each session must be an hour-and-a-half only. Having the parent around will allow the child to confidently explore new surroundings without anxiety.  Once the child is familiar with the new environment, he/she will find it easier to settle down in the parent’s absence.

Second week: During the second week, allow parents to wait outside the classroom, at a spot where the children can see them. This will reassure the child that their parents are waiting for them while they play at school. These sessions can be for an hour-and-a-half each day for that week. If a child cries continuously, allow him/her to go the parent. Gradually encourage the student to come back to the classroom to play with the rest of his/her friends.

Third week: During the third week, ask parents to wait at the school but away from the classroom. Tell the parents to reassure their child that they will come back to pick him/her up when school finishes. The facilitator must also reassure any child who may seem anxious or upset. There should be no screaming or raising of voices at children if they seem upset or anxious. This will only add to the child’s anxiety and prolong the settling-in time. If a child cries inconsolably, take him/her to the parent. Gradually encourage him/her to come back to the classroom to play with the rest of the class.

Fourth week: During the last week of the month, ask all parents to leave their child at school and come back later to pick them up. If there is a child who still seems anxious or unsettled, ask the parent to wait around. By the end of the week, extend the session to two or three hours with short breaks in between.

Note that Mondays will be the most difficult days during the settling-in time since the children would have had a two-day holiday in between.

(The contributor is head of  child development and academics at Zee Learn.)

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