First, understand that the separation reaction is as much about the mother, grandmother, or the caregiver who drops off the child as it is about the child himself. Many caregivers are embarrassed by their child's reaction, worried about the extra work it creates for the teacher, or frustrated by their lack of control. I think most are distressed by their child's sadness, fear, and intensity - feeling those emotions themselves. You can help the caregiver by reassuring him or her that this reaction is common, that it doesn't bother you, and that you have a plan to help.
The Plan. Create a drop-off plan together with the caregiver that includes clear routines which will be used every day. Keeping the routine exactly the same is very important for helping the anxious child to be able to predict and trust what will happen each day. For example, the plan might be as follow:
- Caregiver and child come into classroom and put things away.
- Child spends 5 minutes showing his caregiver one of the activities he's going to do that morning.
- Teacher joins the caregiver and child while they say good bye with a hug or other gesture.
- The child remains with the teacher (perhaps being held if he won't voluntarily let go of the caregiver) and waves goodbye as the caregiver leaves.
- The teacher consoles the child as needed, acknowledging how sad it is to say goodbye and reminding him when his caregiver will return (in concrete terms such as "after small group time")
- The teacher helps the child find a favorite activity to get involved in as a distraction.
- The teacher calls the parent after 10-15 minutes to let him or her know that the child is okay and has calmed down - or is calming down and doing better.
What separation strategies have worked for you? Please share in the comments below!
[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Crimfants]