Updated: Jun 16, 2022
Early in my career, I first trained as a pre school teacher.
A great skill to acquire as a preschool teacher is knowing how, and when to take a child from their parent.
Confidently insisting to the parent that their child will be fine, waving them off to work and quickly distracting the child with the days activities. That was me. I had it down packed;
"Hey Johnny your here! I need your help with the rabbit cage, come on?" as I whisked him away giving Johnny's' Mother the "he'll be fine, you go - nod"
It worked every time.
I never once considered there might be a better alternative, and certainly not one that actually supported the development of a child's emotional regulation.
It wasn't until years later when I worked as the Director of a preschool did I notice the major contributing cause of a child's separation anxiety, was in fact the parents behaviour.
There I was, now on the other side of the fence, at my desk I sat - morning, noon and night observing parents.
I witnessed them coming and going.
Dropping off and picking up.
Popping in and phoning through to check.
Peeping in my office window - signaling thumbs up? or thumbs down?
Worried that their precious child might be overwhelmed, upset and in desperate need of their comfort.
Some would stay way too long, setting themselves up for the dreaded daily repeated plea of "Mum stay with me a while longer, pleeeease?"
Frazzled mothers talked too much, reassuring their child with anxious words and gestures trying to convince them they will be fine.
"Your going to have so much fun with your friends"
"You love it here"
"I'll buy you a treat"
"I'll pick you up early"
The overly positive sales pitch was dreadfully inconsistent with their 'Your making me late for work' body language.
Children were seen with teary eyes, gripping tightly onto the moving leg of a fathers suit pant, while frowning at the teacher - feeling confused, disconnected and now even more anxious.
So how do you respond to a child who is clearly suffering from separation anxiety?
The best response is L.O.V.E.
Listen, Observe, Validate and Empower
Be calm and look them in the eye to listen, connect for a moment and hear them out.
Observe your own feelings and behaviour. Breath deeply and slowly and hold a calm positive stance.
Use describing words to depict how it might be for them. Name the feelings you see, and empathize with them so they feel heard and understood.
"You feel sad"
"Its hard to say good bye" or
"You really want me to stay, I know, its tough"
Give two choices "Would you like to go outside or read a book?"
then, a statement of intent "I love you, and Ill be back later"
Then smile and walk away confidently.
This response along with calm, confident body language will send the child the message:
"I am OK that you are sad, I trust this place and these people, and you are safe"
Remember: If your OK with their big feelings, they will be OK with their big feelings.
Super Nanny Script: "It’s OK if you feel like being sad, I'll be back later to pick you up"