A mother walks her son into the preschool classroom. She helps him with his coat and bag and tried to kiss him and leave. But the boy has other plans ... he wraps his arms around her determined to prevent her from going. Soon he dissolves into tears. The mother is left holding her sobbing child, not sure whether to stay or go.
If you've faced a situation like this, you aren't alone. In pretty much every classroom, everywhere, there is at least one child who just doesn't want mom to leave.
What's a mother to do? It can feel like you are breaking your child's heart when you leave them in the classroom -- and ripping your own out in the process.
Follow our tips to help ease separation anxiety for a happier child and a happier mom.
The first thing you should do to help your child with separation anxiety is to establish a routine. A routine can help a child recognize familiar cues that will remind them that mom's coming back.
"Usually what works best is to give them some exposure to the new situation and people while they are still with their parents. Then, gradually over time, leave them alone for longer and longer periods of time works well. Some may still cry and miss their parents but most eventually come around," says parenting consultant Suzy Martyn.
For more information, read How to make daycare or preschool drop-offs easier.
While it might seem like your child will wallow in despair the entire time you are gone, chances are that isn't what will happen. In many cases, by the time you get outside (and peek in the window, of course), your child will have stopped their crying and started playing.
Before you beat yourself up too much, be sure that the anxiety isn't being quickly checked when you leave. "Talk to the teacher to make sure that your preschooler isn't playing you with a tearful and guilty-ridden goodbye only to miraculously bounce back within minutes of your departure," says author and parenting consultant Stacey Kannenberg.
What if it is your baby, not preschooler, that has the separation anxiety? Read 19 tips for easing your baby's separation anxiety.
It will take time for your child to overcome their separation anxiety, so take it one day at a time and be patient. Separation expert Dr. Wendy Walsh says that although there are whole formulas for helping children overcome any anxiety they have, nothing is an absolute fix for all kids. "Every child is different and they need to be parented differently," says Walsh.
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