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  • Writer's pictureRodney Hess

Dealing With Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers and Kindergarteners

Starting preschool or kindergarten is a big step for little ones and their parents! While it’s exciting, it’s natural for children to feel anxious about separating from mom or dad and spending their day in a new environment. Separation anxiety peaks between ages 3-5, so tears, tantrums, and pleas of "Don't go!" are common at drop-off time.

As a parent, you can make this transition easier on your child with preparation and a few simple practices:

Visit the school ahead of time. Walk around the school perimeter together, peek in the classroom, meet the teachers, and check out the playground. Let your child take the lead in exploring all the fun spaces. Knowing what to expect will reassure your child and make the first day less intimidating.

  • Ask Ema: What are things I should do before the first day to help my child get familiar with the environment?

Have a warm-up period. Spend short periods of time away from your child, like running a quick errand or taking a walk around the block, so they can practice separations. Always tell them when you'll be back, and make sure to return on time. This builds trust that you'll come back after school too.

  • Ask Ema: What are some brief separations I can practice with my child to prepare them for a longer school day?

Read books together about starting school, like "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn. Talk about how the characters feel and how they get comfortable at school.

  • Ask Ema: What children's books can I read with my child to normalize first-day jitters?

Meet the teacher in advance if possible and learn about the daily schedule - what time lunch and naptime will be, playground time, etc. Share this predictable routine with your child.

  • Ask Ema: What details can I get about the daily class schedule ahead of time?

Pack a "comfort" item like a beloved stuffed animal or family photo in their backpack. This provides continuity and a sense of security.

  • Ask Ema: What small comfort item could I tuck into my child's backpack to help with the transition?

Establish a quick goodbye ritual like a special hug, handshake, or high five. Keep things upbeat but brief - long drawn-out goodbyes often make separation harder.

  • Ask Ema: What positive goodbye routine or ritual could we establish on the first day?

Offer reassurance like "I'll be back after your nap to pick you up. Teacher Anna will take good care of you." Then smile and go.

  • Ask Ema: What are some reassuring things I can say at drop off to comfort my child?

Accept that some tears are normal. Validate their feelings without giving in to pleas or tantrums. Praise successes like "You were so brave today!"

  • Ask Ema: How can I validate my child's separation anxiety while still encouraging school attendance?

Keep a matter-of-fact, positive attitude yourself. Your confidence will reassure them this new adventure is exciting vs. scary.

  • Ask Ema: How can I model a positive attitude about this change for my anxious child?

With time, patience, and consistency, separation anxiety will fade. Preschoolers will adjust to their new environment and gain confidence. Be flexible, communicative with staff, and show your child that school can be a safe, fun place! The skills they develop will boost their independence and social development.

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