It’s a process, for both children and adults. I sat in the lobby of my daughter’s preschool for two months, just in case she might need me, in case she came out looking for me. The director of the school finally came to me one day and said gently, “You know, I think she’s fine.” She was fine – I was the one with the separation issue.
Everyone’s situation is unique. Some parents need to drop their children off and run to work. Others have caregivers that can hang around until the child seems comfortable. Others still may want to sit in the lobby for a while, like I did with my daughter. Every situation is workable, and it’s important for both children and grown-ups to feel like they own the process to a certain extent.
Make a plan and stick to it. “Let’s read a book together, then I’m going to go out for a coffee.” “After we put your shoes in your bin, I have to go do some errands, but I’ll be back when music and art are over.” Whatever the plan, communicate it to your child, even let them help you come up with the plan, but stick to it. DO NOT allow your child to manipulate you through temper tantrums or pleading. The more straightforward and predictable the events are, the easier it is for the child in the long run.
NO overkill!! don’t keep reminding your child that you’re going to leave them at school alone. Don’t talk about it much at all. You may feel like you’re “preparing” them, but kids at this age learn by doing, and talking about something is very abstract to them. The more you talk about the fact that you are leaving and they have to stay, the more, anxiety you will create. Just deal with it when you get here.
Say goodbye. Do not sneak out while your child is busy playing, that may be easier for you, but it’s definitely not easier for the child. Then they feel like they don’t trust the situation; they think their grown-up is still there but they find out accidentally that they’ve disappeared. This creates more problems in the long run.
They may cry, but it’s temporary. Preschoolers want control of everything in their life, as you certainly know. But they can’t have control of everything, and in this case it’s very important for you to be firm and direct and to stick to your plan. they may cry, but they stop quickly – and sometimes before you reach the end of the block. If you’re concerned, you can call in to check. And if a child is inconsolable, we will call you.
Stay upbeat and positive, try not to convey that there’s anything to worry about. Kids are so perceptive; they can pick up nonverbal cues very easily. Try not to act like there’s anything to be worried about, nothing from which they need to be protected. Even if they cry a little, part of the process is working though the fleeting sadness. It is actually very empowering for them.
No grown-ups in the classroom. It’s very important to the classroom dynamic that the teachers are viewed as the authority figures while your child is in school. It’s fine for grown-ups to come into the room during free play for drop off, to help your child get settled (read a book, do a puzzle, etc.) It’s also fine for you to stay at the school until you feel comfortable leaving. But grown-ups must stay outside the classroom, so not to compromise the development of the spirit of the class.
Don’t be late for pickup. Nothing undermines a child’s first separation experience more quickly than not seeing their grown-up outside the room when the class is over and the door opens.
The most important thing to remember is the experiences you child has in preschool form the foundation of everything that comes after. They learn about themselves, they learn about their friends, they learn how to be a friend, how to share, how to wait their turn, how to give each other space, how to have mutual respect. they gain confidence, they find their voice, they learn how to be part of a dynamic group. They will have great fun, and hey will learn in the process.
Lisa Ecklund-Flores holds a bachelors degree in music education and music therapy from State University of New York at Fredonia and a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the City University of New York Graduate Center. She received her Dalcroze Teachers License in 1987 from the Dalcroze School of Music in NYC under Dr. Hilda Schuster. In 1990, Lisa co-founded Church Street School for Music and Art, where she continues to teach Dalcroze classes today.