Separation anxiety is both a stressful and painful experience for both adults and children alike. It is most heartbreaking for you as a parent to leave the centre when a caregiver has to literally hold the child or peel the child off you. More so if your child is crying…and…this is becoming a daily event! Helplessness and anxiety creeps in and one often cries out for help.
The following information might help you, but feel free to speak to us, and together we can fulfil our roles as mediators for your child. It is the job of the centre staff to take the lead in settling your child in the room. However, parents need to feel part of the room and together with staff, support and strengthen one another, then results can be both tangible and rewarding.
Preparing for a move
- Children and parents need time to find out about a new room and staff. Learning to trust and form attachments takes time and our role is to remain calm, patient and positive. In a new environment, children are unsure of their safety and wellbeing. Therefore, visits prior to the big move are very important. Spend some time in the new room with your child. This will help your child feel that this is a safe place. Your child. will feel more at home if you can explore their new room with them. Get to know the new staff yourself. Know their names and talk with your child about them. When your child sees that their new teacher is your "friend" they will be more accepting.
- During your visits, let the new staff members know about your child's personal rituals, favourite books, toys, food and what works for you when calming your child.
- For babies and toddlers, practice short term separations around the house to help your child learn that your disappearance is only temporary. For example: As you are leaving the room tell your child that you will be back soon. When you get back say, "Look mummy/daddy is back!" "I will always come back for you!"
- It will also be helpful to start with a shorter day and gradually increase the hours if this is your child's first experience in a child care environment.
- Separation anxieties can be more exaggerated for children who are experiencing other stresses in life such as a new sibling, relationship problems between parents, moving or hospitalisation. Let the Centre Director know if you are facing a certain crisis so that special arrangements can be made for your child. For example: we may delay the move.
Some strategies to help you and your child cope with separation anxieties
- Start the day right and keep your morning routine as consistent and as calm as possible. Avoid rushing or putting pressure on your child. For example: Finishing his breakfast! Avoid speaking loudly, or passing on vibes about your own anxieties of dropping him off at Kindercare today! Try to keep your own anxieties to yourself.
For example, don't say: "You are not going to cry today are you?" Children pick up vibes very quickly!
- For an older child—prepare him/her at breakfast time:
"When we get to Kindercare today we will read one book and then mummy/daddy will go off to work”. Always do what you promise.
- Set a consistent goodbye routine. For example: Exchange greetings with staff. Put basket in change room. Direct your child to an activity or friend. Stay for a while and get your child involved in an activity of his/her interest. (Should not last for more than 5 minutes.) Give a kiss/hug/goodbye and leave. Respond with understanding, patience and confidence. ("I know you don't want me to leave you, but I will be back this afternoon!") Penelope Leach, in her book, states: "Don't let yourself be controlled by your child's crying, even if it reaches hysteria. One of the toughest lessons to be learned in childhood is that you can't get everything you want by crying. Help your child start learning the lesson now by taking your leave even if he protests vigorously. Be sure to gradually accustom your child to being left with someone else."
- Always tell your child you are coming back! As young children cannot quite comprehend time, it is very important to keep your promise to return at a certain time (after sleep / lunch / afternoon rea etc.). Don’t betray their trust! Try to be consistent with yur pick up times, at least until your child is more settled.
- Don't sneak out of the room! It will make your child' s insecurity worse the next time you are leaving.
- Images, sounds, objects from home can sometimes help a child with separation anxieties such as: a photo, comfy reminders, a tape, book, toy etc. . However, if these make things worse, definitely stop it!
- Sleep time - we allow a snuggly toy or blanket from home if need be.
- Acknowledge that your child's behaviour habits may regress somewhat at this time of change e.g. Wanting to be carried, dressed, fed etc. Allow this regression to happen and recognise that it is another symptom of the anxiety your child is experiencing.
When dealing with separation anxiety, we need to be aware that this is not necessarily something that your child will 'get over' in a short time. Have realistic expectations, patience, calmness and hope!
If you need further help in this area, please speak to the room teachers or centre director. It is our aim to ensure children experience a smooth transition.
We acknowledge Juliana Cheah's development of this informative message for parents.