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Parenting Help: How To Deal With Separation Anxiety In Preschoolers

Updated on January 12, 2012
Pouting child
Pouting child

Separation anxiety is very normal among preschoolers, especially those who are going to school for the first time. It is quite natural for children to cry, whine, and cling to their parents during the first few days of school. They are, after all, being placed in a new environment with unfamiliar faces.

Though it may be hard for some parents not to give in to their child's heart-wrenching wails, it is important that you make your child understand that you cannot be with him all the time. Here's what you can do to bring down stress levels both for you and your child.

Prepare your child for the separation.

While you're eating breakfast, for example, plant the suggestion that you are leaving and that your child can cope by saying, "I know you're such a big girl and that you'll be fine in school while I go to the office."

Tell your child what you will be doing while you're gone.

This reassures him that you are not leaving because you don't want to be with him anymore, but because you need to get some things done.

Describe to your child what he will be doing in school in your absence.

Tell him in detail about the fun things he will be doing in school with his teachers.

Reassure your child that you will be coming back.

Always tell him that you will be returning - and prove to him that he can trust what you say by coming back when you said you would. And never, under any circumstance, threaten to leave your child when he "misbehaves." This will make him more fearful, and he will cling to you even more.

Prepare yourself.

When all the preventive measures have been exhausted and you still find yourself with a clinging vine, remember that the crying will only subside once your child learns the invaluable lesson that he can survive without you for a couple of hours. Don't make a fuss or punish your child for clinging; firmly encourage and reassure him instead. Holding, embracing, or babying him while telling him to go inside the classroom by himself may confuse him about whether he should stay or go, so be firm. Make sure you're not the one with the separation anxiety.

Praise your child the moment he's separated.

Say, "I'm so proud of you for being such a big boy in school" to make your child feel proud of his "accomplishment."

Pick the right school.

Children with separation anxiety need a warm environment where they can learn that the world is not as scary as they fear. It helps if the school has friendly teachers who will put them at ease. Also, make sure the school that the school curriculum includes plenty of fun activities.




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    • dessav profile image

      Desiree Savarese 3 years ago from Suwanee, GA

      It is tough at times but we are getting through. One day at a time :-)

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 3 years ago

      You're welcome, dessav. It must be tough, I imagine. Kids going through emotional upheavals tend to need even more reassurance and time. It's going to take a lot of love and patience on your part. Deep breaths. :)

    • dessav profile image

      Desiree Savarese 3 years ago from Suwanee, GA

      Thanks for this. My son is 3 and I've been a single mom for the past year. That doesn't help with the anxiety at all especially since he's never wanting his father to pick him up from school at all.

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 4 years ago

      I'm sorry to hear that, loraine. As long as her teacher reassures her and "befriends" her so that she begins to trust the people in school, she'll gradually come to see that school is a fun place to be. First time schoolers are still adjusting to a new routine, new surroundings and new people. Some adjust faster than others, but with patience and love, all kids eventually pass this phase.

    • profile image

      loraine ghori 4 years ago

      My 4 year old daughter is in Preschool. She. Cries from home to school everymorning. She says everyday that she does not want to go to school. She cries all the time in her Class she does Not make friends she'all to herself cryin to a point Were She vomits. She runs out of class lookingor me. I'm. So stressed I don't norpP what to do. I just wannt to scream an cry because I have noothind

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 6 years ago

      Hi, everyone. I think the first thing you'll have to determine is whether there is really fear or anxiety in the child or is he just trying to manipulate the adults to get what he wants.

      As teachers, when we determine that a student of ours is really anxious, we try to form a bond with him. We talk to him and try to find the root of the anxiety so we can address it.

      When we see that it's just an act of manipulation, we stand firm and explain to the child that crying is not going to get him what he wants.

      Each child is different, so it's tricky at times. When you are at a loss as to how to handle your child's separation anxiety, you can always discuss it with his teachers and ask for their advice. :)

    • profile image

      kathleen greene 6 years ago

      my daughter in law constantly threatens her 4 yr. old daughter that she will leave her in a store and actually walks out if the child misbehaves. This has resulted in constant fear in my granddaughter always checking to see if her mother has left the house or if she's still home very disturbing do not know how to handle this at all

    • profile image

      Sheri s 6 years ago

      I have twin grandsons I have watched them from time they where 8 weeks now 2 and one screams and clings to his mom when she leaves , stops as soon as he sees car going then when mom comes home he screams because I'm leaving , when both hold him telling him we will be back her after work and me next day, , breaks your heart to see him this way any ideas how to comfort him

    • profile image

      catherine 6 years ago

      my three year old daughter cries until she vomits for the last two days at preschool,please advice me on what to do to her to help her stop crying and vomitting?

    • profile image

      JC 6 years ago

      My daughter has just started Year 1 but will start crying the minute I leave her. She has been to preschool for 4 years , hence I thought Year 1 would be smooth sailing. She has friends from her former kindergarten in her class and so I am confused as to why she is not adjusting as well as she should. I understand from the Principal that during the day she is fine. This crying every morning in school is stressing me up!

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 6 years ago

      It's sad to hear stories of kids not wanting to go to school. In cases like these, the teacher has to be sensitive enough to find out what's causing the crying - Is the child fearful or is it just manipulation to get what he wants?

      If it is indeed fear, the next step is to determine what's causing the fear so he can reassure the child that there's no need to be afraid. The teacher also has to connect with the fearful child to develop trust.

      @complaint letter: It's worrisome that there are teachers like that out there. I hope your situation gets resolved soon.

    • profile image

      complaint letter to a teacher of pre-school 6 years ago

      My son is in Preparatory level. The school provide a book for a students to be the basis of their study. as a parent i do some advance study to my son. when he enters the school they were doing some activity on the book so he knows how to answer. there are incident na ung teacher nagkamali sa pag-intindi ng basi instruction ng book. zero lahat ang bata. when we brought the issue to the head teacher and talk to the said teacher. that damn teacher give a comment. i dont care and i'm not affected by the issue na mali ako ng turo. tama ba yun>

    • profile image

      Smon 6 years ago

      My 3 years son having a very difficult time to preschool last two weeks, he cried everyday in school, he doesn't play, eat or talk w any other kids, all he did was crying for 4 hours, wait for daddy and mommy to pick him up. And he getting worse this morning, he start crying when he wake up, keep talk to himself "no crying, don't want to go to school. no crying" but he cry for a whole morning and having nightmare about school. we are so worry about him, afriad he will have a bad images about school from now on, what should I do, anything I can do to stop him at least crying in school.... Thanks

    • profile image

      Shona 7 years ago

      Hi everyone. I have been reading all the comments and advice left for other posts and have found them very interesting and was wondering if anyone has experienced the same as us. My 3 1\2 year daughter started nursery just after Christmas and was very excited about starting nursery which went remarkably well and she seemed to settle in without any problems and used to skip into nursery. She only attends 2 days a week as I think it is good for her to meet up with our other friends children and enjoy different activites. All was going well until 3 weeks ago when she suddenly got very upset when I had to leave her, this took both me and the teachers by surprise and has continued every time since. This is extremely distressing as I have never seen her so upset before. I have spoken to the nursery and they said she is just experiencing seperation anxiety. When I ask my daughter she doesn't really say much about it all but looks a little upset at even the mention of it. I was wondering if it is usual to experience seperation anxiety after every thing appeared to be going so well? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 7 years ago

      Hi, NfromIndia. Some kids take longer to adjust to school especially if they are fearful or shy by nature. It would help if his teacher makes some effort to bond with him so he starts to trust her/him.

      We've had students who refuse to go inside the classroom as well. In cases like this, the teacher or teacher assistant makes it a point to "become friends" with the student. Once a bond is formed, the student won't feel so fearful anymore.

      Hope that helps. :)

    • profile image

      NfromIndia 7 years ago


      I am from India and I need your advice.

      I am facing Difficult situation with my 2 1/2 year old son . He started going to playschool 2 months back . But still he is not adjusted with school. He does not want to go to classroom, If we make him sit outside classroom he is fine and play alone. But He is not comfortable with a group of kids. I am afraid situation may get worse with time .

      We tried a lot of options , Need your advice


    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 7 years ago

      Thank you for adding some helpful advice, everyone. :) And I'm sorry I wasn't able to reply to your question promptly, Heatherain. :O I hope your son is doing well there in Belgium now. :)

    • profile image

      Heatherain 8 years ago

      I have a VERY different situation right now and would love some advice.

      We just moved overseas to Belgium and our 3 1/2 year old son has just started going to the local Belgian school here. They speak only french. My husband wants him to learn french so that is why we have put him there. I am having a hard time with this because my son is so upset. I do not show him that I am upset, I encourage him and tell him good things about the teachers and his friends there. The teachers are extremely nice and very helpful, and they tell me that once I leave he stops crying and is very involved in the daily activities.

      My question is, do you think that the situation is more intense for him because of the language barrier? I've heard that children are like sponges and learn new languages very quickly, but I am afraid he will develop some kind of anxiety. Any suggestions would be VERY much appreciated!

    • profile image

      Mark 8 years ago

      You offer some sound advice that I would have to agree with.

      From my own experience I found the preparation really was the key, letting the child know that they going to be doing some really fun stuff turned the apprehension in two "couldn't wait" excitement.

      The other thing that we personally found useful was that the school offered regular sessions where children who started in the next term could come along for a couple hours with their parents and joining in some of the more fun lessons.

      One or two parents who had gone through this were even told by their children that "it's okay mummy I don't need you to come to school with me"

      On the one hand they were pleased that their children could survive without them but I do think at least one of them was a little bit disappointed in not being needed.

      My suggestion is quite simple. If you think your child may be the clingy type simply ask your child's school if you could come along with them and join in for a few sessions so that they can get used to the new surroundings.

      It's surprising how easy this makes going to school for the child -- and for the parents too

    • profile image

      kris 8 years ago

      My son did this when he was almost 4 and about to start pre-school. He was going to the toilet about 30 times a day to "tinkle" - though we suspected it was to do with anxiety (and i was heavily pregnant at the time, so he knew more change was coming in addition to having to start pre-school)we also checked him out medically. It was only when we took him for a blood test that the compulsion to wee stopped - poor thing was so traumatised by the needle. He didn't start any other strange behaviours. Anyway, hope this helps.

    • bodylevive profile image

      BODYLEVIVE 8 years ago from Alabama, USA

      I've experienced this with my 5 year old grandaughter. It has to do with anxieties. You may want to investigate what's going on at her home. Is everyone happy? My granddaughter's school gives homework, she prefers to play or watch tv, when it's homework time she frequently wants to go to the bathroom to avoid doing her homework until we figured out what she was doing. Now, she is allowed only one bathroom break during homework sessions.

    • profile image

      jem060504 8 years ago

      I enjoyed your article it was great and had good insight!!

      Thanks for posting

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 8 years ago

      Grace's Nanny, I don't really know for sure what is causing her to go to the bathroom frequently, but we've had students like that, too. She could be doing it to avoid unpleasant or unfamiliar situations, but we've also had students with no apparent nervousness or anxieties who pee frequently. :O Maybe they just have small bladders? :)

    • profile image

      Grace's Nanny 8 years ago

      Is anyone aware of a preschooler (girl) reacting to separation anxiety at beginning of preschool, by resorting to needing to frequently goto the bathroom to tinkle? She has been checked for bladder infection, ultrasound of bladder and all is well. She is still doing this at home, at preschool, church, our house (grandparents). She never attended day care, was either with mother or grandparents. Thanks.

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 8 years ago

      Thanks, Samantha. :) Yes, he will be all right. It's all part of his growth. :)

    • samanthagardner profile image

      samanthagardner 8 years ago from Palm Beach Gardens, FL

      Thank you for the article. I know you posted it a while ago but it still applies ever new school year. My son is having trouble adjusting but I have been following the advice above and know he will be fine soon.

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 9 years ago

      Hi, blue mom.  Five weeks isn't that long. :-)  Is he crying because he wants you to stay with him in the classroom? 

      During the first month or so, children are still getting to know their teacher and developing trust.  The unfamiliarity of everything may frighten them.  Encouraging statements such as, "Don't worry, Teacher will help you...",  "Just tell your teacher if you need anything", "Teacher is your friend" will help a lot.

      Sometimes (in our experience) when parents and caregivers are at the end of their rope, they tend to threaten the child into obedience with statements such as, "Teacher will get mad if you don't stop crying", which is really counterproductive because it doesn't help build trust between the teacher and the child.

      If it's fear that's causing your child to cry in school, just keep on encouraging him.  Eventually, he will realize that school isn't so scary after all. :-)

    • profile image

      blue's mom 9 years ago

      should i worry that my 3 year old is still crying 5 weeks into the school year?

    • profile image

      Monika 9 years ago

      Leave quickly.....very very important...the longer you hang around the harder it is for both the parent and the child.

      Say goodbye see you soon and leave.....

    • profile image

      JohnBee 9 years ago

      great advice!

    • topstuff profile image

      topstuff 10 years ago

      Very good suggestions to control kids anxiety.Preparing child for the separation does work a lot.

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 10 years ago

      Very true, Blogger Mom. My 3-year old niece does that at school sometimes. :P

    • Blogger Mom profile image

      Blogger Mom 10 years ago from Northeast, US

      Great advice. According to the teachers at my kids preschool, the crying stops 2 minutes after the mom leaves. =)

    • Susan Ng profile image

      Susan Ng Yu 10 years ago

      You're right, TwoCansMom. Sometimes it's the parents who're having the separation anxiety. :D

    • TwoCansMom profile image

      TwoCansMom 10 years ago

      This is great advice--especially the part about potentially confusing children by holding them while telling them to go into the classroom at the same time. Talk about a mixed message!


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