Separation anxiety: Resources and Discussions

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on August 5, 2010

in Separation Anxiety

For many young children, starting back up into the routine of attending preschool can cause a little bit of separation anxiety.

Wy and Messy Painting

It is important, as a parent or as a teacher, to understand the stressors that lead up to and compound the problem of separation anxiety. As many of you know, my nephew Wy often comes to my house to hang out with me but what you may not know is that there was a time when Wy would get upset and throw himself to the ground whenever he realized that it was time for his mommy to leave.

Separation Anxiety: Resource and Discussion

Separation anxiety is something that all parents and caregivers should understand how to address in a healthy and productive manner.

No Cry Separation Anxiety

Elizabeth does a wonderful job covering the issue of separation anxiety in a simple to read and easy to follow manner. Elizabeth’s book covers tips for babies, toddlers, preschool, and school age children. Here is a sneak peak at some of Elizabeth’s tips…

  • Allow children to warm up to new situations
  • Tell stories that teach
  • Have a dress rehearsal
  • Give your child a calming trinket
  • Have a specific routine for parenting
  • Don’t plant worry seeds

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the amazing insight and ideas Elizabeth shares through her book. Each topic above comes with a complete description of what to do and why.

Oh, and in the back of Elizabeth’s book is an envelope with a special surprise – I won’t spoil it for you:)

I know that many of you have developed your own strategies for separation anxiety. Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments below.

This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Promoting excellence in early childhood education at home and in the preschool classroom!

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1 Miche August 5, 2010 at 7:30 am

We started using a “happy bag” with our children (I guess the same idea as this books bracelet) – basically a little drawstring pouch with several things cut out of felt – a heart to remind children we love them, and a star because we think they are a star/and we will come get them before nightime before its dark when the stars come out, and a little flower (cant even remember what that symbolised but they liked it and it was one more thing). the idea was any time they were missing mummy and daddy they could have this happy bag hanging around their neck (in the early days) or in their pocket or in their locker/school bag and could hold it. Plus a repeated separation ritual/routine (ie one kiss and one cuddle and see you soon, or a kiss on their hand with lipstick and fold the fingers over or put in their pocket and then get them to do same for me. Short happy positive goodby then leave not linger. Check back in or ask kindy/school/carer to feedback to you if concerned. matter of fact reunion also not a big song and dance, happy to see them but not a huge dramatics on return

2 Jen August 5, 2010 at 8:49 am

My first child ran off to preschool with no issues- ready for the world! My second whole different story- I could have really used that book! Last year for Kindergarten-again- crying/anxiety everyday for at least a month or two. We did the kissing hand every day and would talk about her fears, etc. I worked on empowering her to deal with situations and offered encouragement. Looks like a great resource.

3 Dana August 5, 2010 at 8:53 am

when my daughter entered K, 5 years ago, I started writing her little “love bug” notes and thru her day she would find it.. I would put them in her lunch box some days, other days in her jacket pocket, her book bag, folder, etc.. it helped her to relax getting on the BIG bus and looked forwarded to telling me, where she found her love bug note.. She’s starting middle school in a few weeks, and the “love bugs” will be making another appearance :)

4 Sherrie Ayers August 5, 2010 at 9:56 am

This is such a cute trick! But I tried this with my grandson and boys just don’t want love notes! Even in Kindergarten!

5 Pamela Spann August 5, 2010 at 8:57 am

I have not dealt with separation anxiety in about 20 years. At that time I just assured the parent the child would be okay soon after he left and got the child interested in an activity. I must admit I am a little anxious facing that challenge again when I meet my 22 four year olds for the first time this month. I would love some ideas to help in the transition.

6 Christa August 5, 2010 at 9:01 am

Oh my gosh….separation anxiety! I cried…..literally everyday…..from Kindergarten through 3rd grade! I even faked being sick sometimes so I could stay with my mom. As a teacher, I want to do everything possible to make sure that my students don’t go through the same thing I did as a child. That was HORRIBLE for me!

7 Emma Campbell August 5, 2010 at 9:02 am

I have had kids in daycare that just cry long enough for their parents to get down the block. Luckily in the five years I have done daycare it has never been a big thing for any of them. I think as long as they are immediately engaged in an activity or in the case of the early ones put back to bed it is not an issue. All three of my kids that have gone to school have not had problems. My youngest went to vbs this summer and cried but his teacher said it was a few minutes the first day . We shall see how he does at preschool in a few weeks as he is the only one of the four who says he doesn’t want to go.

8 maryanne August 5, 2010 at 9:32 am

All three of my kids have had separation anxiety issues. The older two have mostly outgrown it, but they still get shy around new people. I’d love to read this book, to see if I can help out my youngest (and the older two when they are feeling shy).

9 Leeanne A August 5, 2010 at 9:41 am

Although I was successful with my children dealing with this issue – there is always that one child I work with that ‘The tricks’ don’t work with. It’s a little harder to get to the bottom of their anxiety and alleviating it. Taking tips and hints from other work professionals and listenig to Mom’s suggestions seem to go awry. So is there a real solution? Is there a magic eight ball? Perhaps Elizabeth Pantley has that solution – it would be nice to find out.

10 Sherrie Ayers August 5, 2010 at 9:54 am

My grandson started kindergarten and he was so shy that he would not talk at school. Although he would talk my ear off. I believe the tricks you use will vary for the child there is always the one that will take months to get settled, I would love to get others input on the ways they have used, and the success of the tip!

11 Leslie August 5, 2010 at 10:00 am

I always suggest a comfort item brought from home such as a special blanket, stuffie, or even a picture of the family. I keep the pictures down low so that they may get them and look at them any time.
At this time I am having a difficult time with one child that has never been in child care before and it used to being held constantly. It’s her 3rd week and gettgin better I must say. She cries just until mom is out of sight, so literally when she turns the corner. But when ever the door opens she cries now. So I will continue to be consistent and hopeful that she will get used to that every time the door opens it’s not her mom.

12 Heidi August 5, 2010 at 10:06 am

I am a new teacher. This will be my first September in my own classroom. I will be teaching Preschool and the idea of separation anxiety gives me my own form of anxiety. I am confident that Eastern Michigan University has prepared me well, but would really enjoy reading this book.

13 Karla August 5, 2010 at 10:55 am

I am a teacher with 16 years experience. I have had a few students throughout the years with mild separation anxiety. This past school year, however, I had a student with SEVERE separation anxiety. We tried everything we could think of……. notes from home, a picture from home, favorite blankie, favorite stuffed animal, Mom’s bracelet, Mom leaving quickly, Mom staying a little while, ….. I always have a hands-on activity for them to do when they come in the room. This child LOVED these activites, but missed a LOT of them because of crying sometimes to the point of getting sick. We struggled all year, but we did make it. There were several times that the parents debated taking the child out of preschool. I was so happy that we made it to graduation and the child stayed on stage for the graduation ceremony. However, I am very concerned for the child and family for the upcoming kindergarten year.
I have 5 girls myself and my third daughter cried throughout the preschool years and part of the kindergarten year. We dropped off all the children the same way so sometimes it is just the child’s personality. She loves school now, but still does not like any new situation.
I would be very interested in reading this book for any insight for future children with separation anxiety. Thank you!

14 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:46 am

Wow – you were an amazing support to this parent throughout the preschool year. I appreciate how you recognize the need and work to explore every option to help the family with this very tough issue.

15 Brenda Weaver August 5, 2010 at 11:07 am

My first went to two years of preschool, no problems, then when Kindergarten started it was a different scene. The principal had to peel him off of my leg. That was 22 years ago, since then I have been teaching preschool for the last 20 years. I try and let the students and parents show me what they need to make a smooth transition. This book would be a wonderful resource for our parents. Thanks for introducing us to this Book and author.

16 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:44 am

Definitely a great resource for your parents and for yourself:)

17 Tiffanie August 5, 2010 at 11:40 am

This book would be great for me! The past few months (after switching rooms) at the day care I work at, this little girl has had a very hard time and would just scream. Mom had a hard time too and it would break her heart to have to eventually leave. My main goal each day was to find something to distract her after just holding her for a while to help her calm down and to help her feel safe.

18 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:43 am

By taking the time to hold her and help her calm down – she was also bonding with you. That bond really helps the child with overcoming the separation from mommy.

19 ann August 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm

i had terrible seperation anxiety as a child, so i can relate well to my young students who are experiencing it. i try to comfort and distract, but at the same time show compassion and know that sometimes you just feel sad. usually letting that child help me in some way or work with something new will help.

20 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:42 am

I think it is amazing that your remember your struggle with separation anxiety. What a great memory to use as a resource for helping and caring about others going through the same thing.

21 Jamie August 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm

My son is 26 months old and has been having a very difficult time leaving my side or watching me leave…even when he knows the person he is staying with. We weaned him off the pacifier after his second birthday because it was starting to interfere with his talking. After he was completely weaned, we noticed how much more stressed he is in situations where there are more kids, more people, and when my spouse and I have to leave. Even during playdates with other moms and their kids, he remains by my side and will not interact with any child his age. He is used to interacting with adults (parents, grandparents, close friends) so anytime a child comes near, he quickly runs to us. Anytime I leave the house to run an errand, he starts crying and says, “mommy!! mommy!!” and then starts crying…even if his Daddy is with him. It has gotten better since I emailed you Deborah, but we still feel like we don’t have some good solutions to help. I think this book will give us some great pointers! We currently own the No-Cry Sleep Solution book and used that in the early months.

22 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:41 am

Hi Jamie,
I am glad to hear that your have seen some improvement. I hope you will be able to get a copy of the book and find the suggestions helpful. Hang in there – with your support and help it wont be long before your little one will happily running off to play.

23 Jennifer P. August 5, 2010 at 4:47 pm

M did great going to preschool but I’m super nervous about the transition to kindergarten at a new school. She’s been very clingy this summer.

24 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:39 am

Let me encourage you to relax too – the more anxiety you feel, the more your child will feel:)

25 niki August 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm

My own child had no trouble whatsoever transitioning to preschool–he didn’t even say goodbye on his first day!

So a few years later when I began teaching preschool myself (I had previously been an elementary teacher before I was a mommy) I was in for a BIG surprise! My students (2 1/2-3 year olds) are almost all struck with separation anxiety. Now in my class I ask all the kiddos to bring in a teddy bear or beloved stuffed friend to school for the whole first week of school. Then the children are allowed to bring their buddy in until September is over. Every day there are fewer buddies coming. We do a teddy bear theme the entire month and read lots of stories about our cuddly companions.

I would love to read this book; I’ll bet it is a goldmine of ideas for those exceptionally hard to soothe kiddos.

ndisilvio @ gmail .com

26 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:38 am

I think the book offers great insight – especially in circumstances such as yours – you would find many opportunities to put into action what you are learning.

27 Fish B August 5, 2010 at 10:28 pm

AHHH! I am so thrilled to have found this post – there are some really great ideas on here.
My 4 1/2 year old little boy has a lot of trouble with separation anxiety. It has always been a struggle for us to leave him with a caretaker (be it at Mother’s Day Out, church, or other caregivers). In April, I went to India for 10 days and both he and my 2 1/2 year old (who transitions more easily) have both struggled since then. When I get my purse they ask, “Are you going to India”? In September they will start new classrooms with new teachers. I know they will have some anxiety about what to expect. I would love to have this book as a resource and will definitely try some of these coping situations to help it be less stressful for each of them.

28 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:37 am

It sounds like you are on top of things and open to ideas for making transitions run as smooth as possible which is a great benefit for both of your children:)

29 Marilyn Schmid August 5, 2010 at 10:44 pm

I have seen many levels of separation anxiety in my 16 years teaching at a high school-based preschool setting…trying to model good teaching techniques to my high school students while successfully calming a distraught 4 year old can be very challenging…but it does cause you to really think out your options. I have learned that there is no one best way to ease the anxiety, but partnering with the parent does ease their distress and guilt…

30 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:36 am

I love that you are teaching your high schoolers to understand and manage separation anxiety. This will help them as parents and as future teachers!

31 Casey L August 5, 2010 at 10:50 pm

We are raising a 2 year old (NOT OUR CHILD) but who is a drug addicts baby… We have had to put her in a preschool and I would love to have this book in order to have the caregiver of the child understand ways to even furthur help this child not have such anxiety over “daycare/preschool” She has endured soo much and is having a very hard time adjusting would love to know some more ideas on how to help her with this.

32 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:35 am

Oh wow, that is important for the caregiver to have some good information as well. Everyone makes a difference when it comes to separation anxiety.

33 Noelle August 6, 2010 at 12:59 am

I have been a Preschool Teacher for 5 years, and in that time I have seen children who make the transition from home to school with ease, as well as children who struggle to make that transition. One of the suggestions I offer families when dealing with this emotional topic, is to develop a drop-off routine; bringing the child to school at the same time each day. Typically in a Preschool setting the routine will be the same at that specific time, and the child will begin to develop a sense of familiarity and predictability. Another suggestion, this time to the Teaching staff, is to be sensitive to each individual child’s temperament. Example: Some children will come to you with open arms, and others will take longer to feel a sense of trust in you and the environment. Do not “rush” the child that is slow to warm up, this will make the child feel even more overwhelmed, and will delay the transitional process.

34 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:34 am

Excellent suggestions Noelle – thank you for sharing your experience with us!

35 twolittleseeds August 6, 2010 at 3:10 am

My son cried for a term, I don’t send him everyday and am dreading starting again! I would L.O.V.E. this book. Thanks xxx

36 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:33 am

I am so sorry to hear that he has had such a rough time – that just breaks my heart to hear that.

37 Nadia August 6, 2010 at 7:10 am

Looks like a great book! What helped my son with seperation anxiety when we started school was the book called “Llama llama misses mama” it is such a lovely book!

38 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:31 am

Thank you for sharing that book title – every resource is valued!

39 April R August 6, 2010 at 9:25 am

Wow I couldn’t believe when I seen your give away on my FB news feed. I’m setting here with a broken heart as I type this because my son is suffering from severe separation anxiety. He is a first grader and never has had problems going to school until this year. School started this week and he has been in tears every morning and it is breaking my heart as I am completely at a loss of what to do.

40 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 9:31 am

Bless your heart – I just read your comment and it broke my heart too:) This can be so difficult on everyone involved – I do hope you find some real solutions so your child’s first grade experience, and yours, can be a wonderful time:) Hang in there!

41 Christy August 6, 2010 at 10:52 am

My two children were 3 and 5 the first time I left them. We started for just 1 hour and then increased the time period. We are changing schools this year and my 7 year old is experiencing some anxiety so we have walked through the school several times. We let her play on the playground and have some other anchor experiances while I was with her so hopefully the first day will be much smoother.

42 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 7:50 pm

I certainly wish her and you the best! Think positive!!

43 Chris August 6, 2010 at 2:48 pm

A lot of preschools these days are still have no technique or advice for parents with kids that are anxious. My daughter had so much separation anxiety at her preschool we had to pull her out. Normally she is a fun loving person and loves to be around new people. We tried of a lot of different things but nothing worked. I WOULD love to read this book to get a better understanding of why some kids are ok and others are not.

44 Deborah J. Stewart August 6, 2010 at 7:49 pm

I think that there really is a need for training in this area for sure!

45 Amy M August 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm

There have been children in my care who have had separation anxiety. I would love ideas on how to better ease the anxiety.

46 Andrea Coventry August 7, 2010 at 10:17 am

I work with preschoolers and kindergartners, so I deal with separation anxiety on a regular basis. We have the ones whose parents stick around all morning, thus prolonging the child’s agony. There are the ones who simply cut and run. And there are others who have no idea what to do. The same is with the children. I had one who cried every day for six months last year. You could get him to choose work, but he cried the whole time, often swearing under his breath.

I do remember one child I was nannying doing the same thing to me one summer. I made the summer camp counselors just take him from me, and went out to the car crying, myself. So, I do understand the feeling.

I would just love to read the book to have even more information to share with parents, as well as potentially helping in my classroom.

47 Robyn August 7, 2010 at 10:33 am

As a director, I have encountered this problem many, many times. Children all react differently. I spend quite a bit of time during my new parent orientation sessions describing the exact advice that Elizabeth gives in her book. My best advice is to talk, talk, talk about what the preschool experience will be for your child. The more the child can envision the experience in her little mind, the more at ease they will be before the first day. We allow the children to come to school the week before their first day for a Welcome Day. They meet the teacher, visit the room, meet new friends and decorate their cubbie area. It is a great way to ease into that first week of school. Don’t forget that parents have separation anxiety too! I give parents tips on how to deal with that also! Their reaction to the situation will either diminish or enhance their child’s reaction.

48 Laura Gail August 7, 2010 at 11:58 am

My experience has been that it’s harder on parents than on children. I would love some new ideas on making it easier for everyone! I had a set of twins last year that never did get it all figured out. After every break-Christmas, Easter… even a three day weekend, we had to start over again. It was awful.

49 Katrina August 8, 2010 at 9:20 am

I posted this on FB, but thought I’d enter the giveaway for this book in hopes to win and include in the resource center of our Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs) group. My lil guy and I have established a parting routine that includes three hugs (one big, one medium and one small) and three kisses (big, medium and small). Then when we reunite, we reverse the kisses and hugs (small, medium and BIG!!).

50 Jody from Mommy Moment August 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm

My 4 year old really suffers for this! We never call her shy b/c we do not want to feed the fear. She will be starting Kindergarten this year & I think this book would be great for ME to read before she starts!
Thanks for the chance to win!

Jody

51 nita mustain August 8, 2010 at 6:15 pm

As a teacher of “twos” in a childcare setting, I constantly deal with separation anxiety when parents drop off. I also have children that are transitioning from the toddler room to the two’s room. Some of these little people are very attached to their toddler teachers and have a hard time moving up. We give them a two week gradual transition time. The hard part for me is trying to give them the comfort they need and deserve, while continuing on with the routine of the room. Our ratio is 16-2, which is not nearly enough, but DCFS says it is. Any suggestions as to how to help these little friends? Maybe the book might have some ideas….

52 Jennifer L. August 8, 2010 at 7:43 pm

I had hoped to put my daughter in pre-school this September (she’ll be 2 yrs. 9 mos. then), but I’m going to take advantage of the fact that I don’t HAVE to and keep her in a transition class. I’m fortunate that the pre-school I’ve chosen has a transition program. We tried the short, 6-week program that just ended and it. did. not. go. well. I didn’t even leave – just went up the hall to a separate room and she knew where I was and went back to the usual routine, but she melted down. On subsequent days, she looked me right in the eye and said “you will NOT leave this room” and insisted on direct physical contact. So, instead of pre-school, we have enrolled in a longer transition program and are shooting for pre-school in February. A book with thoughts on separation anxiety and ideas of what we can do and say when at home in preparation for separation sounds like just the thing we need to give her (and me!) the tools to deal with all this.

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