When our first son went off to nursery school, my husband and I were surprised. He got into line with a serious look on his face and marched right into the classroom without a look back! By the time son #2 was that age, he cried every time we left him—and we knew we had to do something to prepare him for the first day of school.
Separation anxiety in infants and toddlers is completely normal, and there are many ways to help your child adjust. Dr Cheryl Andaya of Live With Courage Now suggests practicing with shorter separations first, keeping goodbyes simple, and helping children to feel self-sufficient and confident in themselves in general, so that they feel safe away from you. Above all else, stay positive yourself, but be sure to empathize with your child’s feelings—dismissing sadness or anxiety won’t stop a child from feeling them!
Thanks to a friendly school staff and a flexible work schedule, I was able to take my little guy into school several times that summer to help him feel comfortable and relaxed at his future school. He met his teachers and the office staff over and over, visited the gym and playground, and we made sure he knew how to use the bathrooms and drinking fountains by himself. By the time it was his turn to start school, he was slightly nervous, but mostly happy and familiar with his new environment, just like we had hoped.
—Being self-sufficient in age-appropriate ways can help children manage their anxiety.
—Practice with short separations at first so that your child can see that you always come back.
—Listen and acknowledge your child’s feelings, even negative ones.