Categories Anxiety

Managing Anxiety in Parents of Preschoolers: Daycare Separation Anxiety

In managing separation anxiety, daycare providers and preschool teachers must assist not only the children in their care, but their parents as well.

The most important thing that any caregiver can utilize to help alleviate separation anxiety is an open and honest relationship with parents. “This creates a sense of trust and will reduce the anxiety the parent has when leaving a child who is clearly upset. It will also demonstrate to the child that you, as a caregiver, are someone their parent trusts and this is a safe place to be,” says Jennifer Brackett, intervention specialist for Little Sprouts.

There are several strategies that may help preschool teachers and childcare providers cope with separation anxiety:

Communicate with Parents

Communication with parents is key. “Parents should be aware of what their child will be doing during the day, what is expected of both them and their child, and should be given written information about the procedures and policies of the school”, says Shannon Ayers, assistant research professor at the National Institute for Early Education Research [Email interview, August, 2008]

Parents should also be invited and encouraged to visit the classroom and participate in various activities like reading a story, helping with a special snack, and/or sharing a special family or cultural ritual. In addition, ask the parents how they feel when they leave their child. Sometimes parents just need a minute to talk about their feelings.

Renown parenting expert Lonna Corder suggests offering phone calls, emails, or little notes to anxious parent to help parents feel at ease. Consider setting up a time for the parent to call after they leave to check in and, if necessary, set up one to two subsequent calls and keep them brief, especially if anxiety ran high at drop off time. It is reassuring for a parent to hear, “Sally has stopped crying and is busy playing in the blocks”.

Visualization Techniques

If a parent is having a tough time, ask the parent to visualize their child having fun at school/daycare and playing with other kids. Clinical psychologist Dr. Erik Fisher recommends asking parents to take some slow deep breaths when they feel stressed and return to their visualization throughout the day as needed. In addition, let parents know that transitions can sometimes be harder for parents than it may be for their child kids. Validate their feelings and let them know it is okay to feel that way.

Counseling for Anxious Parents

Some parent feels a sense of reward when their child has a problem with them leaving, according to Fisher. “When this is the case, it can be very difficult situation to address, because parents could feel shame and guilt if this is brought to the fore-front and their response can involve anger and indignant denial,” says Fisher.

Sometimes parents need some time to adjust to being away from their child to redevelop their sense of self. If parents are very enmeshed with their kids, the parent will not want to separate and the child often suffers. Sometimes the child wants to separate, but feels afraid to. Suggesting counseling for parents and their children may be helpful in these situations.

Preschool and daycare should be positive for everyone in the family. Anxious parents must be treated with care and respect, so child care providers should be as loving as possible. Corder suggests teachers send the child home with something from school creating a link that can endear the whole family to the school’s caring environment.