Dealing with Pandemic-induced Separation Anxiety in Children

separation anxiety in children

Many businesses are beginning to require that employees return to the office full-time. And with that, children are returning to daycare. After so much time with their parents, separation anxiety in children will likely be common this school year.

Over the last year and a half throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have been able to give children more attention and time than normal. It certainly has come with challenges for parents trying to balance work while providing this added attention to their children.

And now both parents and children will have to adjust back to old schedules and ways of doing things with the return to the office and daycare. 

Some children born during the pandemic have never been to daycare. These pandemic babies don’t know what it’s like to be away from their parents because many parents haven’t even been able to go on date nights and leave the baby with a sitter.

Parents, teachers and administrators need to be ready to help children feel comfortable at daycare once again.

Recognizing Separation Anxiety in Children

At first glance, some signs of separation anxiety in children might look like a child is acting out. But before calling a parent-teacher meeting to discuss bad behavior, evaluate whether the child might just be having a hard time with being away from their parents.

Separation anxiety in children symptoms include:

  • A child worrying when away from family members or caregivers
  • Refusing to attend daycare or school
  • Tantrum throwing when away from parents
  • Complaining of physical ailments, such as headaches or nausea
  • Insecurity and the need for reassurance

How caregivers react to separation anxiety will dictate how comfortable a child starts to feel while attending your center. Giving children a little more time to transition from one activity to another or to say goodbye to their parents at drop-off might be necessary.

The harder you push children during these times, the more likely they’ll be to dislike coming to your center. If during the first week or two of school children don’t feel comfortable engaging in an activity, allow them to watch or give them a little more one-on-one time with the teacher, when possible. 

5 Tips to Deal with a Child’s Separation Anxiety

With the new school year looming, here are some ways to help children feel comfortable at daycare again. Here are the steps parents, teachers and administrators should be taking to help children return to daycare.

1. Host an Open House Before the First Day of School

Give children an opportunity to explore their new environment with their parents nearby. An open house can show children the fun things they’ll be doing in the classroom and allow them to meet their teachers. 

Hosting an open house will give children more time to adjust to the classroom than they get when parents drop them off on the first day. And parents might have a little separation anxiety after many months of being able to oversee everything with their child.

Try to give children an hour or so in the classroom with their parents. This allows parents to learn about what’s in the classroom so they can start talking to their children about it to further prepare them and provide exciting details so children can set aside some of their anxieties.

Encourage parents to allow the teachers a little time with the student as well. This helps children familiarize themselves with all aspects of the experience. And seeing teachers with their parents can help ease the transition a bit.

2. Invite Parents to Start Telling Children What to Expect this School Year

Send out emails to all parents of your enrolled students this upcoming fall. Encourage the parents to start discussing the upcoming school year with their children.

And if possible, invite the parents to try to leave their child with a familiar family member or friend for a few hours to start preparing them for time apart from the parents. 

Provide parents a schedule for the day and encourage them to begin following that schedule at home. Adjust bedtimes and wake times accordingly so that children aren’t overly tired, which can heighten their emotional response to the whole experience of being separated from their parents.

3. Offer Flexible Attendance to Allow Children to Ease into the Schoolyear

Five full days away from parents during the first full week could traumatize children and make them dislike attending your center. Provide parents the option to ease children into the new school year with flexible attendance for the first few weeks.

Demonstrating to children that short periods away from their parents can be fun will help them feel confident in going a full day. Transitions are challenging for young children, and they might struggle to express those emotions. So keep the transitions small and steady to ease the process.

4. Parents, Get Children Back into Their Pre-pandemic Routines

An important task parents can start engaging in is getting children back into their pre-pandemic routines. Some key routines you might want to consider starting now include:

  • Sleep and wake times
  • Consistent mealtimes and trying new foods
  • Starting the day getting dressed and ready for the day
  • Expressing when they need to use the restroom instead of you having to remind them
  • Being away from comfort devices, such as stuffed animals or blankets if your daycare center doesn’t permit these items
  • Leaving the home to explore new locations

5. Stay in Close Communication Throughout the Day

As teachers and administrators learn the personalities and needs of each child, it’s important to have direct and easy contact with parents. Asking parents quick questions about ways to comfort their children and ease them into the school environment can make everyone feel better about the transition back to school.

Some ways that teachers and parents can stay in touch include:

  • Journaling
  • Photo sharing
  • Chat
  • Email
  • SMS
  • Childcare software alerts

Easing separation anxiety in children at the start of a new school year is nothing new. Planning now can help children feel comfortable with their new schedules and routines before being away from their parents.

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