Dropping your child off at preschool can cause a lot of emotions for both you and your new preschool student. These feelings are a normal part of development known as separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is when your child experiences "excessive fear or worry about separation from home or an attachment figure" like you, the parent. However, following a few simple steps can help ease your child's transition during preschool drop off and make them excited about going to school.
1. Acknowledge Your Child's Feelings Are Valid
Regardless of whether your child is throwing a tantrum at drop off or at home, it's often because they're seeking empathy from you. Simply acknowledging that you recognize their frustration, fear, or sadness is the first step in calming them.
Also, it's important that both you and your child understand that these emotions are normal. As a result, you shouldn't belittle your child during drop off. Doing so can make them feel like an outcast and intensify their separation anxiety.
On the other hand, validating your child's feelings shows them that:
- They don't have to be afraid of not belonging in preschool. They may come to realize that some of their classmates feel the same way as they do, which can build an early bond with between them and their peers.
- Change is a process. Even adults have to get used to change. You can also assure them that you and their new teacher are there to show them how to handle this big change in their life.
- They are empowered to make progress every day. Let them know you are proud of them for being so brave and grown up. This support will boost their self-esteem and lessen their anxiety.
2. Help Your Child Learn to Self-Soothe
One of the biggest struggles for new preschool students is learning to manage their emotions, fears, and apprehensions without the help of their parents. Tantrums are a classic example of how preschoolers express their emotions because they don't have the vocabulary to verbalize their feelings. Giving your child the tools they need to self-soothe can keep them from resorting to crying or tantrums come drop off time.
Self-soothing techniques vary by age, but some of the most common ways for preschoolers to self-soothe include:
- Breathing exercises: Anger and fear trigger the same physiological responses (increased heart rate, sweating, etc.) that can all be counteracted with breathing exercises. In addition, distracting your child from their fears by focusing on their breathing is a common technique used in meditation and other calming practices.
- Using their imagination: Before leaving for school, ask your child to imagine all the fun things they will do when they arrive at school or what they will do during the day. Ask them to describe what they're looking forward to and provide suggestions that keep their imagination happy and upbeat. If they start to feel anxious at drop off, remind them of their imagined day to manage their fear.
- Physical exercise: Moving around before drop off is a great way to help your child manage their anxiety. They can let go of any pent up energy, feel less tense, and trigger endorphins that will make them happier. Running in place, jumping as high as they can, and touching their toes are simple, stationary exercises that can ease anxiety during preschool drop off.
3. Talk to Your Child's Teacher
If drop off continues to be a struggle day in and day out, it's easy to wonder if there's something else going on with your child. One way to address your questions is by talking to your child's teacher. Ask them if your child's separation anxiety continues once you've left.
Often, all signs of anxiety disappear once they're through the door. If your child feels fine when the school day begins, it is only a matter of time until preschool drop off becomes an easier part of your day. Practicing patience, consistency, and empathy will eventually lead to a seamless drop off.
However, if your child is still struggling after drop off, it may be indicative that they need a more supportive environment. Preschool should be a place where your child feels safe, supported, and able to grow. Achieving this sense of security requires capable educators, a controlled and stimulating classroom, and a healthy student-to-teacher ratio. Some preschools may not be equipped to provide these things to your child. If so, it's never too late to find a more fitting school.