Leaving your child for the first time -- or even the second or third time -- in a room full of strangers is bound to trigger separation anxiety. Here's what you can do to help her feel more at ease.


However you expand your child's horizons, expose her gradually. Leaving her for the first time-or even a second and third time-in a room full of strangers is bound to trigger separation anxiety. Some children react to preschool, for instance, by regressing: wetting their pants, whining to be carried, clinging to their parents, or resuming old habits like carrying a baby blanket or sucking their thumb. Others become irritable and demanding or cocky and overconfident, proclaiming that they know everything already and don't need to be taught anything else.

All of these behaviors are normal and do not necessarily mean that your child is unhappy with her preschool experience or that she's mad at you for sending her away. They simply indicate that she is adjusting to a new world with new people and new activities. Here's how to help ease the transition:

  • Visit the school (or play site) in advance so your child has an opportunity to meet the teacher, perhaps find her cubby or locker, and become familiar with the classroom in advance.

Preparing Your Child

  • Tell your child what to expect. Let her know how her day will be structured-with group play, art, lunch, playground time, and a nap, for instance. Encourage questions-about eating lunch, visiting the bathroom, making friends, getting along with the teacher, and, of course, missing you. Answer each question in a positive and relaxed tone, and be careful not to exaggerate how much your child will love school or inadvertently plant fears in her mind.
  • Linger for the first few days. Hang around the classroom after dropping your child off to help her feel more secure. Or get to school early and play with a toy she especially likes. If she still seems anxious, encourage her to keep a transitional object that reminds her of you or of home: a picture, a special note, or a favorite stuffed animal or toy.
  • Avoid sneaking out of the classroom. Slipping away when your child is not looking will likely increase his anxiety. Instead, explain matter-of-factly that you have to go but will see him later (after lunch or naptime, or at supper). Then be careful not to show any sadness or anxiety of your own. The more anxious you seem about leaving, the more fearful your child will feel.
  • Be patient-and vigilant. Most children, after a brief adjustment period, look forward to attending preschool, enjoy playing with new friends, and return home happy and enthusiastic. Some, however, just aren't ready for this big step. If your child's reluctance to go to school remains acute after a week or two, reassess his readiness. He might need another year of maturation before he can handle the excitement. Instead of forcing him to adjust, find alternative ways to expose him to other children. After all, it's not so much going to preschool that's important, it's learning to socialize, to make friends, and to master basic skills of interaction.

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