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April 13, 2024

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DAD BEAT: Bye-bye, Separation Anxiety

Starting preschool is a major milestone, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with lots of crying, uncertainty and heel digging.

For us, day one of dropping off our 3-year-old at his new preschool program did not go great.

He knew something was up as soon as the car stopped in the drop-off line. The wailing started. But who could blame him? He spent the first three years of his life learning a comfortable routine and has no idea what this place is, who these people are or if Mommy and Daddy are even coming back.

Kicking and screaming, we got him out of the car and into school, as he clung to his bear the whole time. My heart hurt, but I knew it was a good thing.

Separation anxiety is real. First days of anything new can be tough for little ones — tough for parents, too, but it’s so necessary for their development. We went with the “rip the band-aid” technique with a cold break. Fortunately, his new teacher sent us a picture message within the hour of our little guy playing with blocks. Whew! We felt a huge relief and felt better.

The next few drop-off’s were increasingly less traumatic. By the end of the week, he was saying, “Bye-bye, Daddy” and reaching up his hands toward his new teacher, entering the building with a smile on his face. What a turnaround! The lesson? IT GETS EASIER.

There are definitely a few tricks that help with separation anxiety those first few drop-off’s. First, create a goodbye ritual. This provides comfort and familiarity, and could be anything from a special hug or handshake to a, “See you later, alligator!” For us, it’s the classic high five and kiss-on-the-forehead combo. Once you’ve said your goodbyes, it’s best to skedaddle so that your child doesn’t become preoccupied by your presence.

Next, bring a comforting object. A little reminder of home may seem like small stuff to you, but it can provide a real sense of security to kids in an unfamiliar environment. A favorite stuffed animal or blankie, even a beloved book or sippy cup does the trick.

Finally, when you pick your child up at the end of the day, reinforce the idea that you came back, just like you said you would. This way, each day’s drop-off won’t feel like you’re both starting over again with the upsetting goodbyes.

So, if you have a kid who’s starting something new, just rip that band-aid. It’s good for them — and good for you, too. Remember, it gets easier.




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About the Author

Michael Aldrich

Michael Aldrich is Nashville Parent's Managing Editor and a Middle Tennessee arts writer. He and his wife, Alison, are the proud parents of 4-year-old Ezra and baby Norah.