Along with positive feelings, you may have nervousness or sadness or guilt when school begins. Your child may be very excited and proud but may also have a sense of dread. Maybe she will be mad at you for leaving. In the trade, these feelings are called “separation anxiety”. Separation anxiety is such a common and sometimes difficult phenomenon that the first few weeks of a preschool program can revolve around it.
Sometimes children who make a confident start will stall out after a week or a month or a break. This is natural; and your loving, compassionate, steadiness (which we will fortify through drop-off and pick-up chats, phone conversations, and so on) will get your child through these rough patches.
You can tell yourself that preschool is indeed serious WORK for your child. S/he will often be happy and funloving at school; but s/he will experience every other emotion, too. Attending preschool is building a life of one’s own, continuously supported by family, but not fully experienced by family. Your child is attending school to become more fully him/herself.
You can tell your child that nursery school is a place for children and teachers. Parents bring their children to school, leave and do other things, and then come back for their children at the end of each morning. Teachers will help your child, just as you do. If you have provided your child with this basic picture, and s/he seems accepting of it, you can think about making your departure ritualistic, loving, and quick.
When it’s time to go, it is helpful to give her a short warning and a couple of small, circumscribed choices as to where and how you will say your good byes. “I’ll be going to work in about five minutes. Would you rather do a puzzle or read a book before I go?” After the chosen puzzle or book: “Do you want a hug at the door or a wave at the window?” You will find that a ritual will likely develop.
Sometimes choices will not assuage your child about her condition of “abandonment”. She will need to cry or scream or stamp. Explosive reactions do not usually indicate unreadiness to be at school. They are hurt indignation, and your child will weather it with the help of the teachers, who will sympathetically put words to her feelings, assure her that parents always come back for their children, and redirect her to interesting activities.
It is very difficult for many parents to leave a crying child. Very occasionally, it may be best to defer her enrollment for awhile. The teachers will help you assess your child’s readiness. With consistent, short, loving good-byes on your part and interesting experiences at school, your child’s separation anxiety is most likely to quickly evaporate.
If you feel you need to stay a little while to be assured of your child’s comfort and the staff’s concern for her, you are welcome to do so. It’s helpful to be frank with yourself, though, about your stay: It is usually to help yourself feel more comfortable with the choice that you’ve made to send your child to school here. Once you are confident in your choice, you can project that confidence to your child (or at least you can maintain confidence long enough to get out the door, and then you can call to make sure everything’s all right!). If you do stay, it’s best to root yourself in one spot and let the teachers take over the care of your child. If you take this passive approach, you will begin to notice your child moving out of your visual range, accepting the teachers’ friendly assistance, and turning her attentions to the toys and the children.