Preschool Drop-Off

Separation Anxiety in a child is almost never exclusive.  Parents have an emotional reaction and it’s usually strong.  Most parents react with a flood of their own anxiety.  I define anxiety as fear.  The child fears being alone separate from Mommy, and Mommy fears whether child can make it on his own without her.  It’s an anxious circle.  Some parents react with frustration and anger toward the child.  The parent, in this case, has a resistance to dependency needs usually rooted in poor handling of the Separation Process during their own toddlerhood.

-Is there anything wrong with constantly checking up on your child?  

Yes, you risk the reciprocity of your child “checking” on you constantly.  No child is ready to be left at preschool without Mommy present until at least the age of 2 years and 9 months.  After that, age is no longer the issue.  The key issue is how Mommy and the teachers deal with the Separation Process.  Moms should NEVER be ripped away abruptly from their child.  It can take up to 10 weeks for a child to fully be ready to be left at school without her mother.

The best way to handle the Separation Process is to begin by Mommy going to school with her child and sitting next to him.  She should not interact with him in games and toys, but rather be there available as a safety net in the event that he needs company.  Mom should work hard to develop a warm relationship between her child and the teacher.  This is crucial so that the child learns to reach out to the teacher when Mommy is not there.  Then after at least a week, as the child appears to be comfortably engaged with activities Mommy should sit in a chair against the wall of the classroom so the child can come and go to her, as needed.  This period can take weeks until the child feels secure enough to let Mommy leave.  The next step is to try having Mommy leave the classroom to go to the bathroom and return immediately.  Always, go to your child and tell her in advance you are leaving to go the bathroom.  Then, return within a few short minutes to demonstrate that you deliver on your word.  This enhances your child’s ability to trust you.  As she becomes comfortable with this phase, Mommy can try leaving to get a couple of coffee down the street and then returning in 45 minutes.  It is extremely helpful for moms to develop a team approach with their child’s teacher.  This way the teacher can give cues and directions to Mom while Mommy can feel safe and confident that her child will be well cared for when she is not there.

The exceptions to the above plan are children who suffered a traumatic event in their young lives including a death in the family, hospitalization or surgery.

The way parents handle their child’s separation and first preschool experience lays the bricks and mortar foundation for the child dealing with all life separations to come.

 -Why is it important for parents not to give up on bringing the child to preschool if she or he is always upset?  

If your child is under 2 years and 9 months do not even try to leave her alone without Mommy or Daddy.  After 2.9 years, hand in and follow my suggestions in Answer #2.  This will bolster your child with coping skills to deal with future frustrations, disappointments, and separations.  Every time you allow your child struggle just a bit it empowers them with better coping skills to deal the next time around.

-Is it damaging to a child to be left crying at preschool?

It is damaging to a child to be left crying at preschool without a warm, nurturing teacher or supportive adult available to be a source of comfort to the child.  Usually, the company of a kind, loving preschool can direct a child to engage in fun activities, narrate the child’s feelings, and facilitate interactive play with other children.  This helps the child separate from Mommy and find her place in the preschool classroom.  If the child is left alone crying at preschool, which I have sadly observed on rare occasion, this can damage and scar the child for many years to come.

In general, it is best to not leave your child(ren) crying under 2.9 years unless he or she is with a well-attached warm, nurturing person the child knows and has a relationship with (ie:  Grandma, Nanny, Auntie, or Uncle).  The reason is that it takes months to years of the child practicing back and forth rhythmic movement between attachment and separation from Mommy before the child internalizes the security of knowing that when Mommy goes away she always comes back.  It is a belief system that is required in all human-beings and can only be established with consistent responses by the primary caregiving person – usually Mommy.

That said, one singular time or event of leaving your child crying will likely not damage him.  But, more than once become a real interruption in the continuity that children require.

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