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BibiNogs’ Article: Separation Anxiety in Young Children

15 February

By Joyce Lim, Director of BibiNogs

It can be difficult when we deal with separation as an adult, let alone young children. Parents cringe and sometimes tears well up in our eyes when we see or hear our little gems crying for us.

When your child is separated from you, expect them to cry. In fact, be happy when they do so. It shows that they miss you, they miss home. It is very natural for young children to be attached to you and their main caregivers. Unless your child is extremely extroverted or unattached to anyone, he/she will not be affected by the separation.

After working with young children for many years, I have observed that these are the following factors affecting adjustment to a new environment.

  1. Child’s personality
  2. Past experiences
  3. Parents’ emotions

 

Child’s personality

Depending on personality, your child will react differently when they need to deal with separation. A few questions we may want to ask ourselves:

  • Is my child an extrovert or introvert?
  • Is he/she sociable in a social setting? During playdates, birthday parties or visits to friends’ home…
  • Does he/she generally have a happy disposition?

If a child is an extrovert and someone who is sociable, he/she will most likely take a shorter time adapting to a new environment or situation. Children with such characteristics enjoy interaction. Having teachers and children around them will gain their attention. In the beginning, they will miss home. However, they are interested to make friends and know more about people around them. Thus, the ease of adaptation.

Children who are happy tend to adapt better as well. They tend to look for happy things in life. Being with new friends, playing with teachers appeal to them. Again, though they miss mummy and home, they can be distracted with the excitement in the new environment.

On the other hand, if your child is an introvert, he/she may take a longer while to adjust to a new environment. He/She prefers home to any other environment, he/she likes familiarity.

 

Past Experiences

Past experiences are one important factor too. Questions to ponder…

  • When you were separated from your child the last time, what was his/her reactions?
  • How did you respond to it?

Every experience the child goes through gets deposited into his/her memory bank. This in turn will affect his/her future encounters. If it is a school setting, my suggestion to parents is that DO NOT pull your child out from the school while he/she is still in the crying stage. Unless the school is deemed unfit. It is really natural for children to take 2 weeks to a month or so to get adjusted to any new environment.

Truth be told, the same goes for adults! It is just that we do not burst out crying anymore. We are able to contain our emotions within ourselves. Our coping mechanisms would have been built based on the above-mentioned two factors: our personality and past experiences.

 

Parents’ emotions

Last but not least, parents’/caregivers’ emotions can affect child’s ability to handle his/her separation anxiety. I hear parents say these quite a bit… “I hide how I feel when I drop my child off”, “He/she doesn’t know that I am upset, I don’t show it”.

Children are great at sensing things, especially when they are younger. They are innately connected to parents or primary caregivers. It is advisable for parent to keep your emotions at bay. Drop your child off, say a good “Goodbye” and go get a cup of coffee. Do not linger around, peep… etc. When you do this, your child could feel you and this causes their emotional upheaval. To add on, other children in the class may be reminded about their parents and start crying again.

One of my friend, he sent his child to my preschool. His son cried for the entire month, at drop off and pick up times. During the first month, he was very anxious, without being aware of it. He would call, text or email me every day, including weekends. Finally, I sat him down with his wife, over coffee. We discussed about the child’s situation and agreed that he should cut down his frequency of call/text/email. The outcome? His son stopped crying.

Now, the big question… What should we do as parents?

  1. Talk to your child about what to expect
    • Bring your child to the premise
    • Go through the timetable with your child
    • Let them know when are you going to pick them up
    • For example, “You are going to have story time, activities, snacks, activities, goodbye song. Then mummy will be there to pick you up!”
  2. Say “goodbye” nicely
    • Hug your child, say “I love you”. It is very important for your child to know that you love them even if you send them to school
    • Say goodbye to your child (Even if they are wailing for you)
  3. Pick up slightly earlier
    • Be the first few to pick your child up in the beginning
  4. Communicate (Facts/Feelings)
    • Allow your child to cry, it is an expression of how he/she feels
    • Reflect how they feel at that point in time and what are they doing/what they would like to do
    • For example, “You really miss mummy and you want to go home. And you want to go home now…”

Things to expect when your child is adjusting…

  • Child may
    • throw tantrums
    • bite
    • have nightmares
    • scream
    • stay aloof
    • become more clingy at home
    • say that “I don’t to come to school” all the time
    • start to get apprehensive once child wakes up
    • R.. Pee in their pants etc.
    • Vomit

It is really up to us to make every experience a good memory. Being mindful of all the above mentioned will ease the transition of our little ones into their new environment.

Ms. Joyce Lim has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field and is a Certified Trainer in Parent Education and Teacher Training.

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