At the beginning of the year, there is bound to be loads of excitement. You and your child are entering a new stage, and it is perfectly normal to experience as much exhilaration as anxiety. In children, this anxiety often manifests from fear of the unknown and the need to cling to what they understand, leading to separation anxiety. This can be troublesome for parents and children alike, so we are going to talk about a Montessori approach to dealing with separation anxiety and letting go.
What is Separation Anxiety?
According to the Mayo Clinic, separation anxiety is a very normal occurrence that happens in infants, toddlers, and even young children. The symptoms include anxiety, fussing, apprehension, crying, and fear. Some toddlers will throw tantrums or scream. By three years old, most children outgrow the separation anxiety stage, but there are some instances where prolonged separation anxiety occurs in older children. For example, anxious children might face another wave of separation anxiety on the first day of the new school year, or when they enter a new class, despite being settled already.
How to Approach Separation Anxiety the Montessori Way
Now that you know a little more about separation anxiety and that most children go through it at some point, we can start to approach these bouts of sudden fear and anxiety in a child much more thoughtfully.
Here are some recommendations to help your child overcome separation anxiety:
Prepare For and Anticipating Change
Deal with anxiety by replacing it with enthusiasm. You can do this by preparing for the first day of school well in advance. For example, you can take your child by the Montessori school in Philadelphia they will be attending and tell them all about it. Say something like, “This is where you’ll be going to school. We’re not going to stay today, but next week you’re going to be here.”
If you are allowed to enter the school before the first day, do so. You might be able to attend an orientation or open house, where you can introduce your child to their teacher, the classroom, and the materials they will be using.
Tell your child about the school, what they will be doing, and what they can expect. Try to do this often enough to give them an idea about a typical school day. If possible, find some books involving the first day at school to read to them.
Also, before school begins, start the morning routine. Wake up at the same time every morning. Have your child get dressed at a certain time and get them involved in preparing their breakfast and lunch. You can even stage a school lunch by packing everything in the lunchbox. Remind them how they will be preparing for school just like this.
Talking about it solidifies the routine in their mind, and it gives them information to figure out what is happening instead of being afraid of something they don’t understand. If things feel familiar, the separation anxiety will be less intense.
One important thing the parent must do is to acknowledge that the fear, the displeasure at being separated from you that your child displays is real but temporary. Naturally, you aren’t going to feel great when you see your child screaming, sobbing, and struggling to deal with the distance between you two, but you have to be firm in the boundaries you set.
By understanding that they’re upset is real but will dissipate with time is key to giving them coping skills. Avoid bribing your child for good behavior, since that doesn’t teach them how to deal with painful emotions.
If your child is crying when you leave the school, don’t hang around. Parents will definitely feel the tug at their heartstrings, and Montessori teachers understand this, but your child will keep crying if you stay. The only way to stop the anxiety and the tears is to leave as you promised and to let them deal with the emotions.
Instill in them the knowledge that you will return. Keep your body language positive and at ease. If you look scared or upset, your child will pick up on that. Keep your own nerves under wraps. Greet the teacher with a smile, tell your child something fun, and, if you see them growing upset, gently remind them how to begin the school day. “We walked through the front door. Now where do we go? Where is your classroom? What do you do in the classroom?”
Make these goodbyes as routine as possible. Do it the same way every day, and keep it as quick as you can. Trust in the consistency and the results.
On the way home from school, talk about the day with your child. Have them discuss the school day and what they learned or worked on. Keep the focus on the good things that happened, because that continuous reinforcement will help your child understand that school is a happy and safe place to be. Over time, their separation anxiety will decrease.
Separation anxiety is never easy to deal with, for both parents and their children. Yet, you can get through it. By establishing a routine that reduces misunderstandings will help your child through the anxiety. Help them understand that their Montessori school in Philadelphia is a place where they belong and that they are safe. And remember, it’s a phase that will pass, so stay patient and positive.