An insider view on an age-old problem!
When a child enters a childcare or school for the first time, he will experience mixed feelings of excitement, fear and nervousness. He is excited about being with other children and having the opportunity to play with interesting toys.
Yet he feels nervous about being with the new caregiver or teacher and his emotions fluctuate. He obviously feels sad about being away from his safe and secure home.
This feeling is described as ‘Separation Anxiety’.
Separation anxiety is a normal stage of development in a child. It starts at about 7 months of age and intensifies to a peak just after the first birthday, and gradually wanes over the next 3 years.
This explains why some children find it so hard to leave their parents at the babysitter’s or at the childcare center. Children’s protests are not based on naughtiness, they are just telling you that you are important, and they would prefer to stay close to you.
Usually this can be overcome gradually with gentleness, and not scolding and punishment.
Separation anxiety is not only experienced by children, but also by parents. They go through the guilty and worried feeling when they must leave their crying child in the care of a stranger whom they hope will take care of their loved ones.
Often, the question of whether my child has had a full meal or has cried for a long time are those in mind. These feelings are quite normal for any parent to have.
How do we deal with separation anxiety then? Here are some tips which would be of some help.
1. Take a few days off work to spend time with your child at the new childcare centre.
It would be good if you could help your child get adjusted to the new environment by participating in the activities and daily routine.
2. Resist the temptation to sneak out while your child is not looking.
This will only create more problems in the long run as your child may be constantly fearful – even when he is at home (that you are about to abandon him when he is not looking again).
3. When it is the time to say your goodbyes, hand your child to the teacher rather than letting her take him from you.
It is a non-verbal way of conveying to your child that you trust this person and that he will be safe with her.
4. When you say goodbye you have to mean it.
Do not hang around for an extended period or keep picking him up. If you seem hesitant about leaving your child, you are only conveying to him that you do not feel good about leaving him with his teacher.
If you are still worried after you leave, you may always call the childcare center later to find out how your child is coping.
You should also be prepared for more tears when you come to pick him up. Children express their emotions when they are in the company of those they feel most strongly about.
5. Remind yourself that it takes time for any child to adjust to a new setting.
To feel safe and secure, he needs time to develop a bond with his caregiver. Different children experience different periods of adjustment, some might take a few days, and some might even take months.
6. Give more details about the child to the teacher or caregiver.
This will allow the teacher or caregiver to provide better care for your child due to their better understanding of his temperament and other behaviour.
Minor details like using a towel when my child drinks his milk or tapping his thighs when he needs to pass urine are important. Such details are useful in helping the child to settle down faster in his new environment.
The key to a successful parent-teacher relationship is ongoing communication. Constant feedback and sharing day-to-day progress of a child are assuring to the parents. Separation anxiety cannot be eradicated. However, through effective communication and good teamwork between parent and teacher, it can be made less traumatic for a child.
KidzMatters is an online resource on all matters regarding parents and infants to 6-year-olds. Subscribe to KidzMatters for more news, tips, updates and activities!
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