Notes on Separation, Separation Anxiety, and How to Make Your Mornings Happier
In an early childhood environment, it is very common to see children expressing their feelings, sometimes quite strongly, about parting from Mummy or Daddy. This is normal, and signals a good bond between you and your child. Attending playschool is a small step children take to gain independence.
Our teachers are here to work with you, and we regularly discuss strategies at our staff meetings to help children settle in. We’d like to share some of our observations and strategies to help you.
What happens if the crying goes on for longer than a few moments of lingering sadness?
Take heart: Hundreds of parents have been here before. We’ve also seen many children at the GAP, and guided the vast majority to a happy outcome.
We understand that it is hard for parents to leave their child if he or she is crying. It is hard for your child too (and hard for the other children who sometimes join in and start crying as well). The advice given by childcare centres and schools is to reassure your child you know they can do it, let them know when you will leave (after we sign in / after circle time/ when the bell rings), that you will be back when playschool is finished for the day, and give them a kiss and a hug, wave cheerfully and leave promptly.
Most children only cry for a few minutes, are comforted by the teachers, and then go on to have a happy day.
Be assured we would let you know if your child stayed distressed for any extended periods.
My child cried when I left, and now I’m feeling dreadful!
If your child was upset when you left, please feel free to ring us on 6257 7323 a little while later to reassure yourself your child has settled. There is nothing worse than being away, feeling dreadful, and wondering, imagining your child howling for you. Please – ring us. We will not think less of you, nor will we think it is silly for you to ring: on the contrary, we will know you care. And it is nice for us to be able to report back to you on your child’s progress.
What happens at the GAP when my child cries?
The great majority of children who cry when their parents leave are happy to be comforted by us. We hug them, we rub their backs, we reassure them. If their German is not fluent, we comfort them in English, so we are sure they understand. We talk to them and show them our daily routine and let them know about all the lovely things we are going to be doing at the GAP today, before Mummy or Daddy comes back to collect them. We sometimes find they need to be carried around for a while or distracted by engaging them in play. If we couldn’t comfort your child, and they were not responding to us, we would let you know.
Occasionally, a child says or indicates that they do not want to be comforted by our teachers. We respect this too, and stand back a little to allow the child space, while keeping an eye on them and waiting until the child is ready for us to help them.
No child stays upset for more than 5 or occasionally 10 minutes after the parent leaves, and no child is left to cry on his or her own. Please be assured that if your child is distressed for more than this short period of time that we will ring you and talk it over right then and there.
What happens when the crying is over? Are they still sad?
Generally, after everyone is settled in the morning, all of the kids spend the day happily. Of course there are the occasional tears but if that happens, the children trust our teachers enough to be comforted by them, and settle back in quickly. (We would let you know if your child didn’t respond to our comforting, of course.)
Most children are upset for a while, are comforted, get over it, and enjoy their day.
My child runs to me, flings their arms around me and cries when they see me at pick up time. Were they upset all day?
No. If your child had been upset all day, we would have rung you. Children may have a few tears of relief at pick up time, as their bravery held up during the day spills out as relief, upon seeing their parent again. Plus, they have experienced so much during the day, it is a joy for them to see you and be reunited.
My child seems sad a lot more than the others. Is he or she experiencing separation anxiety more?
Our teachers will be able to guide you on that. If your child is sad and takes longer to settle in than you/we think is appropriate, then we should talk. Short periods of sadness are normal. Weeks of sadness is classed as grieving. Children grieve differently to adults. They grieve in short jags, rather than long mourning periods like adults. They may cry a bit, play happily for a bit (which might lead you to think they weren’t grieving/sad anymore), but then become withdrawn and sad for a bit, before running off to play again, and so on. We watch for these signs. If we see a child not joining in the activities during the day, not playing happily, or seeming otherwise distressed, we would talk to you as well and let you know.
What sorts of things are more likely to contribute to the upsets?
Children who are new to GAP, and/or who are reasonably young, don’t have yet the ability to imagine what the day will be like, and focus on the immediate separation situation. Also they might have not formed strong friendships yet which will give them support in this situation.
In our experience at the GAP, separation anxiety in new children is more prevalent than in older children or of children who have formed supportive friendships already.
This means that we expect the “drop off tears” to become less as the year goes on.
How can you help your child?
— There is a helpful and informative document on Settling Children In, from our playschool Guidance Binder attached.
— Arrange play dates with other GAP children. It helps your child to form friendships with other GAP children and feel more a member of the group. Ask us if you would like to know who your child likes to play with (some children have preferred play partners, others change throughout the day).
— Bring your child early so that there is enough time to settle in before the morning circle. Arrive when we open the gates in the morning, as there will be time to settle in then, before we start the morning circle around 9:30am.
— Be positive and reassuring that you believe that your child will have a good day. Don’t let your child know that you expect the drop off to be difficult (or let them overhear you say so). They might understand this as instructions on what you expect them to do.
— Stay with your child to help them settle in (we will help too).
— When you are ready to leave, let us know so we can be ready to help.
— Don’t drag it out. Leave promptly, cheerfully and positively upon your agreed time. If you don’t, your child will notice that you are not completely decided to go yet and will try his or her best to make you stay longer. If he or she succeeds in getting you to stay although you said that you were going, he or she will try even harder the next time you want to go.
My child usually settles okay. Sometimes he/she doesn’t though. Why?
It is very common that children are happy to be left at childcare / playschool on some days and have a hard time on other days. We see changes particularly after sickness, around family visits, or around the holidays. Often, separation anxiety is worse after a school break.
Have a look through the Settling Children In document – it was written by a Kindergarten teacher with about 40 years experience helping parents and children go through their first school experiences, together with other highly experienced teachers from other playschools in Canberra.
You know what? I think it is ME who isn’t ready to leave.
That’s okay too. At the GAP, parents are welcome any time, and for any length of time.You can stay all day, all term, all year if you like.
Children will learn independence in small steps. So can parents. If you are finding it difficult for yourself to separate from your child, be easy on yourself. You can stay the whole time if you wish. I would encourage you to have a go at leaving, at least for short periods, just to try it – for your child’s development, and your own. (I know about this bit, because I was a parent who couldn’t leave. In hindsight, I think I should have given it a go, and involved the teachers more. I just wasn’t ready.) I should warn you that if you do stay, we’ll no doubt figure you are fair game to become an honorary member of the staff, and you’ll soon be found cleaning tables, wiping spills, preparing crafts, opening lunch boxes, singing songs, and making sand castles with us! It’s all good. You be the judge.
One of our dads stayed, and had fun wiping down our tables after morning tea. He even did some ironing when we needed to melt our crayons for our traditional lanterns! A few years later, he found himself so involved and included, he was on the committee…
Here is a super synopsis of the three steps that we have observed children take when settling in, and more tips for you as a parent, written by our GAP staff, specifically for GAP children.
We’re here to help. Talk to us.