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Overcoming Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety – Strategies to help your child adjust to the school routine

With many new families joining us over the summer and towards the beginning of the new school year, I would like to share information about the importance of a quick drop-off and early arrival. The first few weeks of Montessori preschool are always a time of adjustment.  Many students (and parents) feel a sense of separation anxiety which is perfectly normal. Separation anxiety is often caused by fear of the unknown when it comes to a new situation. 

Remember, separation anxiety is a phase, it is perfectly natural, and it will pass!

Here are a few strategies that may help you with the separation anxiety you and/or your child may feel.

Make the good-bye prompt and positive. Giving your child “one more minute” or staying to work on a puzzle together simply prolongs the inevitable. As a parent, the best thing you can do is give your child a hug and kiss, say, “I love you” and reassure him/her that you will be back soon.

Establish a good-bye routine. Children crave routine, and Montessori parents who establish a consistent good-bye routine usually have better luck with successful good-byes.  It can be a secret handshake or a secret hand gesture you exchange with your child.   It can be a kiss on the forehead, a reassuring thumbs-up or rubbing noses with your child. Having a set routine your child can count on will provide the needed sense of reassurance.

Trust your child’s teacher. This may be difficult to do when you do not yet know your child’s Montessori teacher that well.  Keep in mind that Montessori preschool teachers have chosen this profession because they love children, and they have a wealth of ideas and strategies to help settle a child who is feeling upset.  It might be a nurturing hug, redirection, pairing your child up with another Montessori student or simply keeping your child close until he/she is ready to engage with an activity.  Ask your child’s teacher to step in to help with good-byes when you give the sign that you are ready to go.

Acknowledge how your child is feeling. It is important to accept and respect your child’s temporary unhappiness, as it is very real and very normal. Say things like “I know you feel sad when Mommy (Daddy) leaves.  You will have a good time, and I will be back very soon.” Avoid the temptation to pressure your child not to cry or to offer bribes for “good behavior”. Learning to cope with sadness is an important learning process for your child.

Never sneak out on your child. As tempting as it may be, sneaking out the door can make matters worse.  It may be very upsetting for your child when they realize Mom or Dad simply disappeared without saying good-bye.  It can make the next day even more difficult.   When you deal with the situation directly, the tearful good-byes will disappear before you know it.  You want your child to know unequivocally that he/she can trust you.

Do not linger. I know how reassuring it can be to stay to peek at your child through the window. However, for your child, it can be pure torture. As a child, seeing your parent when you are upset, but not being able to be with your parent is not a good feeling.  My suggestion is for you to leave quickly.  If you are feeling uneasy, feel free to call the school in 15-20 minutes to ask how your child is doing. Chances are, he/she settled within a few minutes.

Stay calm and be enthusiastic. Modeling the appropriate behavior is key to a smooth transition from home to the Montessori classroom.  Try very hard to ensure your child does not sense your anxiety. Talk about how much fun Montessori preschool will be, talk about your child’s friends and classmates. Discuss the different works your child might want to choose.  Tell your child that you cannot wait to hear about their day when you pick your child up.

Always be on time. Arriving late can often spark separation anxiety. Arriving late can be upsetting to some children as the Montessori class has already started. Give yourselves plenty of time in the morning. Children often get anxious when rushed, so do your best to give your child extra time in the morning to get ready and to arrive at school on time with the group. Additionally, it is important to be punctual when picking up your child. It is easy to lose track of time, but no matter who is picking your child up, whether it is you or someone else, make sure you are there on time. If you are late, it can cause your child even more anxiety and make drop off the next time that much harder.

Encourage friendships. Make a point to set up ‘playdates’ for your child. Invite children from the Montessori class over, so your child can make friendships that will in turn make the transition to the new Montessori environment easier.

NOTE: Be prepared for regression. Just when you think your child has conquered his/her feelings of separation anxiety, here comes a weekend or an illness that keeps your child home for a few days, and you are right back to square one. As frustrating and upsetting as this can be, it is perfectly normal. Stick to the above strategies, and you should notice a significant difference in a couple of days.

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