I love being a stay-at-home mom, but sometimes I miss being in the classroom! I plan to milk this staying at home gig for all it’s worth, but in the meantime, I wanted to do something on a regular basis that would help to keep me in touch with the Early Childhood Education (ECE) experience. I enjoy working with, learning, and writing about young children and a few years ago I started a blog that was dedicated toward daycare and preschool students. I’ll be moving some of those posts over to this blog, and I hope to write a little something about the ECE field each Tuesday. Since most of my more recent experience is with two year olds, I’ll call it “Teaching Twosday.” A little corny, but it works! And despite the name, I’ll sometimes talk about other ages. When I do end up going back to work, I’ll keep up with this whole Twosday deal and have new experiences to share! What follows is a post I wrote two years ago about dealing with separation anxiety in the classroom. Enjoy!
Today, my center held its annual Easter egg hunt in which children get to dress up (optional), make Easter baskets, and go outside and hunt for eggs filled with lots of fun treats! Parents are always invited to these events, and four of my 9 children had their parents in attendance with us today! This is such a fun event for parents who come and take pictures of their cute little child as he or she cutely hobbles about hunting for eggs. And it was all fun and games until it was time for the parents to leave! My two year olds had a total meltdown! Throwing themselves into walls or on the floor, kicking, jumping, and wildly flapping their arms, all while screaming “Mommy!! Mommy!” as their mothers tried (unsuccessfully) to sneak out of our classroom unnoticed.
I expected this reaction from my kids, as they are only two years old and separation anxiety is a natural part of early childhood. Young children don’t yet have a concept of time, and it is hard for them to grasp when their parent will return. Most of my children still cry when being dropped off in the morning (even though they are used to the routine by now!) and generally only see their parents again at pick-up time. For mommy to show up and not be taking them home!? Oh, the drama that causes!
I’d like to share a few methods I employ to help me deal with a child’s separation anxiety. If you are a childcare provider for young children, this short list might help you too!
1. If ratio is okay, take a walk around your center! I do this for two reasons. The first is that a child always wants to get out of your classroom in the hopes that they’ll see their parent once they are out. Leaving your room and walking around shows them that mommy and daddy are not still in the building somewhere – and you are not keeping them hostage! The second reason I do this is because it is a good distraction, the children can see other kids playing, they can look at the neat wall displays of each classroom, they can say hi to other teachers, etc. By the time the walk is finished – they are usually okay.
2. Ask the child to help you with something! Most children love to feel independent and useful. I have asked my twos to help me with things such as getting breakfast ready for the rest of the kids, setting the table, or throwing something in the trashcan. Don’t forget to give lots of praise for the successfully accomplished task!
3. Distraction with songs, toys, games, or books! This is probably the oldest trick in the book! Mommy goes away and suddenly a cool truck, doll, or favorite book appears! More musically inclined kids might even ask you to sing to them (I’ve had that happen!) and once they start singing/playing along – they’re on the path to feeling better!
4. Ask them to show you their clothes, toys, or books! In the same vein, asking children to show you things helps them to feel proud of themselves and engages them in conversation. This one doesn’t work for everyone. But I’ve had some kids who talked to me about their new Hello Kitty light up shoes for nearly thirty minutes after mom left! (I was sorry I’d brought up the shoes!)
5. Invite a friend! Asking one of the child’s friends to come over and play with the upset child accomplishes not only distracting the child, but teaching the other children about empathy. When we use sentences like, “Jimmy is sad. Can you help make him feel better?” We are teaching children to recognize when someone is upset, and that we can do something to help others.
It isn’t a good idea to mention mommy or daddy during this time – even in song! For example, I wouldn’t sing the “5 little monkeys jumping on the bed” song because one of the lines in the song is “mama called the doctor…” It’s also not always a good idea to try and distract an older (1.5-3years) ‘separated and anxious’ child with a physical game like tickling or tossing them up in the air. This generally only serves to aggrivate them further.
In my case, I and my colleagues were able to get through lunch and through the transition into naptime by working together to comfort all of our crying munchkins. After nap, all the kids felt better and were ready to get on with the second half of our day together!
Good times! 🙂