Separation Anxiety and Gradual Entry Rituals

Many preschool and kindergarten programs have a week to month long gradual entry schedule set to help children adjust to new environments and time away from their primary caregivers.

I can say from experience, sometimes the first week of school is more a “honeymoon period”. Your child may, like mine, suddenly act out during the second or third week away, when the realization that this is going to happen regularly and for long periods of time sets in.

It is natural for children to feel anxiety when you say goodbye and miss you during your time away. Some children exhibit clinginess while others may cry or have difficulty communicating.  

You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by being calm and patient. If your child senses your fears or trepidation it will exacerbate the intensity of their own feelings.  Be gentle, set firm boundaries and be consistent.

It may be helpful to practice separating. Show your child through practice, the pattern of goodbye and your return can be trusted.  Follow through on promises and give them an opportunity to explore themselves without you, build new relationship bonds and explore new environments.  Help them see how resilient and how capable they are.

Set mealtime and bedtime routines. Ensure they have a restful sleep and a healthy meal.  Being hungry and tired will not help your drop off routine.  

Avoid “scary” screen time or story telling. Children have a great capacity for imagination and a simple story like little red riding hood can haunt their thoughts during this stressful time.

Set simple, quick goodbye rituals. The longer you draw out a goodbye, the higher the probability your child will grow clingy and anxious.  

Most importantly, show them it is not a big deal.  It is a normal natural part of growing up and living in a community.  

We are on week two here in the Vancouver area! Hopefully we will all be through gradual entry very soon!

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