Most early childhood educators have been in classrooms where it's all tears and general unhappiness for toddlers or preschoolers when they are first brought to school or a child care facility. This phenomenon is usually referred to as separation anxiety, and is incredibly common as many of these children may have never spent time apart from their primary caregivers. While there are many strategies on ways to help young students adjust during this time, it's more difficult to help the parents understand their own version of separation anxiety.
Especially prevalent for first-time parents, it can be an incredibly stressful moment to entrust others with the care and well-being of their child. Many develop feelings of guilt for leaving their young child, while others may feel overwhelming emotions regarding being away from their child for an extended period of time.
Even veteran parents may struggle when they drop off their children for the day. Seeing their precious children looking confused or stressed may trigger a particular maternal or paternal bond, making it extremely difficult to walk away.
Hui-Chin Hsu, a professor of human development and family science at the University of Georgia, Athens, explained to Genevieve Richards at Babble that parental separation anxiety is an overwhelming emotional state dominated by feelings of sadness, worry, and guilt. Feelings can be so intense that parents may not fully understand what they are going through.
As an educator, it's not only your job to help your students through this transitional time, but to reassure their parents as well. To assist your students' parents during this challenging time, here are a couple thoughts to consider:
Build parental trust
If parents don't feel like you have their children's best interest at heart, they may not let them stay in your care or become "hovering parents" who stick around long past when they should depart. Before your students even arrive at your classroom, meet with their parents or send out an encouraging letter or email, being positive about all the fun activities you are looking forward to accomplishing with their children. This will help them get to know you better, making them less uneasy about the transition.
Furthermore, reassure parents that feelings of separation anxiety are natural and that they should not keep them buried. Instead, let them know that you are open to talk and want to make this time as comfortable as possible for them.
Being firm, yet open
In the weeks preceding the start of the school year, ask parents to begin developing a goodbye routine with their children. Making sure that it is upbeat, short, and not dramatic will help both the students and parents adapt to this abrupt change far more quickly. Let them know that they can create a "secret handshake" or rhyming goodbye song that will gently inform their children that they will be leaving, but will be back soon.
Comfort bags full of items from home have been proven to be successful for helping children get used to their new environment. Putting together these bags has also been shown to help parents come to terms with the change and instead focus on making the process easier for their children. Whatever approach instructors have to help their students' parents adjust, it's always important to remember to respect the cherished bond between caregivers and their children, along with finding positive ways to approach this transition.
ProSolutions Training offers plenty of online child care courses, such as "Coping With Separation Anxiety," for interested professionals. Contact us today to learn more about our online training and courses!