Starting Preschool or Kindergarten: Separation Difficulties
My twins just started preschool 2 weeks ago and their reactions are so different that I’m totally baffled! My daughter practically forbids me from coming into the classroom with her (is this a preview of her teenage years?) while my son hangs on to me anywhere he can grab something and not let go- my sleeve, my purse, one day he even put his arms around my leg and wouldn’t let go. He cries” Mommy, don’t go!” and it’s all I can do to not bawl myself. The teachers assure me that minutes after I do leave- he’s a puddle of tears- he is fine and joins the others in playing and circle time. What do I do?
-- Teary eyed mom
Difficult separation at preschool is as common as the common cold– and most frequently about as harmful. You are in good company with numerous other parents who’s kids just started preschool or Kindergarten. The fact that you have twins makes things easier for you (I am sure there were sleepless night when it didn’t feel that way) because you have a built-in “control.” The fact that your daughter separates and goes into the classroom so easily is a good indication (though not a 100% proof) that everything going on at the preschool is just fine.
You didn’t say if your twins are in the same classroom or not. If so- you may be able to get your daughter to help your son with the transition to class. If not being in separate classes is likely a big part of the challenge for your son. He has to separate not just from you, but from his twin sister as well.
That said, here are some suggestions for easing separation at preschools for all kids.
1. Accept that crying is sometimes part of the process. Your goal is not to eliminate it in one stroke but to help your son overcome it so that he feels he’s accomplishing something important on his own.
2. Give your son something special that soothes him to take to class with him. It can be a small stuffed animal, a family photo, a special car, etc., that stays in his backpack. If he needs it closer by, put it in a fanny pack that he wears all day (at least initially).
3. Break the separation process into 5 simple steps and go through them fairly quickly:
It helps to “rehearse” those steps at home once or twice soon after you get back from preschool. Don’t revisit these close to bedtime when, in any case, you might hear some anxiety about going to school the next day. If you do, be reassuring and say: “Mommy will help you.” Don’t dwell on it.
4. Leave a note in your son’s lunch box with words of encouragement and a photo of you/your family.
5. Tell your son exactly when you’ll pick him up and the sequences of activities until that point. If you son is having a very hard time it’s a good idea to come after a shorter time and only 2 or 3 activities. Say: “You’ll have circle time, outside play and snack and Mommy will come back right after snack time.”
6. If possible get your son to pick in advance which teacher he wants to go to for comforting. This requires coordination with the preschool- as does the whole enterprise.
7. Work with the teachers to make sure they help your son verbalize being sad and together come up with something to do to feel better. They should not just distract him and gloss over the sadness.
8. Ask the teachers to text/email you about 45 minutes after you’ve left to tell you how your son is doing.
9. Remember that when you pick up your son you are there FOR HIM. Figure out getting your update from the teacher so it doesn’t interfere with reconnecting with your son.
It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month or longer for our son to feel fully comfortable separating from you. During that period, try to go easy on other separation situations (baby sitters, staying with grandma, etc.). Remember, this is a very valuable learning opportunity: separation will keep coming throughout life. Mastered well now, it will become an important tool for many occasions in the future.
Rachel Biale - Parenting Counseling