There is no doubt that leaving your child at an early learning centre for the first time can be a stressful experience – for both your child and for you as a parent.
Separation anxiety is normal in the early weeks of a child’s first introduction to a centre, so don’t worry if your child seems upset at first. Separation anxiety is something that can peak between 14- and 18-months-old and typically decreases throughout early childhood.
Sometimes it can last longer if there have been difficult separations in the early years and it may reflect the child’s attempts to hold on to what is safe and what is comforting in the child’s world.
When some children are separating from their parents, they may throw tantrums or refuse to get out of the car. Understanding this behaviour and staying calm is important. Speaking softly, stroking their hair or cuddling may help.
“Separation anxiety can be very draining for the child and the parent,” said Goodstart Early Learning National inclusive practices consultant Troy Dunn. “It’s not easy leaving your child when they are upset.”
Often life events, such as moving house, starting in a new room at an early learning centre, or a new baby in the family can cause anxiety, making the child feel unsafe and uncomfortable. Sometimes children who were doing well can regress when change occurs.
While there’s no magic formula to make separation anxiety miraculously disappear, there are a few tips that can help, as outlined in The Goodstart Practice Guide.
- Take your child to visit their new centre for orientation and to meet the educators before their first day.
- Talk to your child about what will happen at the centre, when you are leaving and reassure them that you’ll be coming back.
- Work together with your child’s teachers and educators – they have plenty of good ideas and reassuring advice.
- Try to keep goodbyes short. It’s important to be strong, leave when you need to go and don’t linger at drop-off time.
- Let an educator settle your child doing something they enjoy, such as playing with the blocks, or with a friend they look forward to seeing.
- Be calm, respond to your child’s distress and comfort them, but remain firm about leaving.
- Spend extra time with them to reconnect when you come back and ask them about their day. Ask your educator for some useful questions that can help encourage your child to open up about their experience.
The Goodstart Practice Guide: An Essential Resource for Early Learning Professionals. 2016.
Social Emotional Separation Anxiety Fact Sheet, Noah’s Art Children’s Services Resources Unit.
Separation Anxiety in Infants, Centre for Emotional Health, Macquarie University.