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Helping families manage separation anxiety

Child development

Author: Rebekah George – Centre Director, Goodstart Ormeau

It’s not unusual for children to exhibit some degree of separation anxiety when they start childcare.

The new environment, faces, sounds, smells and routines take time to adjust to and while you might expect separation anxiety to only affect children who are new to childcare, we also see it in children who have come from a different centre and even in those who have changed rooms within a centre.

The causes of separation anxiety can be anything from being a developmental phase through which the child is progressing or a response to a recent stressful event in their life. The symptoms can range from mild to more serious but by working closely with families we can usually move through this phase without fuss.

In most cases it’s not a serious or long lasting condition but rarely, it can be a diagnosed as a condition known as separation anxiety disorder. Whenever parents are uncertain we’ll always recommend getting a professional opinion from their doctor.

A typical process we follow in our centre at Goodstart Ormeau to help ease anxiety begins at the time of enrolment, before the child’s first day in the centre.

We’ll give parents some tips and strategies to use at home and in the centre that help reduce anxiety, and we encourage families to bring their child in for play dates to become familiar with the environment, the educators and the other children.

It also allows the parents to get a feel for our routines and see first-hand the nurturing, love and learning opportunities children in our centre receive.

During the orientation process we’ll learn about what the child enjoys doing, and we’ll ask about any comforters they may use at home. We’ll then have an experience ready when the child starts to help them settle into their new environment.

We communicate with families on a daily basis, and often throughout the day too. We’ll take photos or videos of the child participating at the centre and post them on Storypark (which we use to record and document activities throughout the day) so parents know their child is safe and enjoying their experience.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that the separation is a two-way street and parents can be just as affected as the child. We often find that parents feeling comfortable helps the child settle too, but if there are still concerns we can consider things like starting with half days and building up to a full day or bringing in some comforters from home.

Some children are more naturally resilient than others, but if a child is taking longer than usual to settle in then we’ll look the days they are attending and whether increasing them or changing to consecutive days will help them settle better.

We might also suggest parents bring their child in on non-booked days (with them) for an hour or so to connect with the children and the educators for a shorter period of time.

Encouraging families to show their child photos or videos of their day on the Storypark app and to talk to their child about these experiences can also be helpful to build their confidence with the centre and their routine.

Early childhood is a very important time of life for both children and families. Creating a smooth transition, a warm welcome each day and a positive, nurturing environment is one of our biggest priorities.
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