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Separation Anxiety: How to leave a crying child

One of our brilliant Perform Teachers sent me this article. It's about how parents should deal with separation anxiety when leaving their child at school or a class for the first time and I wholeheartedly agree with the advice.

For 20 years, I’ve taught children in an environment where parents don’t stay in the room and it’s extremely common to have children cry when their parents first leave. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do as a parent is stay and try and make the child feel better. They won’t.

I know this may be hard to hear but whilst you’re there they’ll continue to cry and continue to want you. A wise head teacher once described it to me as the plaster effect. You take a plaster off slowly and it’s painful and prolonged. You take it off quickly and it’s over immediately.

In my experience, if the parent explains confidently that they’re going to go now and that the child will be fine and enjoy themself, once they have left, the child will usually become distracted by what the other children are doing and join in. Confidence is key in this matter. Even if you don’t feel confident your child will have fun after you have left, it's really important that you convince them you do. If you give yourself away in your body language, your child will pick up on it.

When my daughter, Elizabeth, started full time nursery at the age of 3, I was told by the teachers that I could stay as long as I wanted and they encouraged me to stay if she was distressed. I explained (in a nice way) that I didn’t think this was best for her. I’m sure the teachers thought I was slightly ‘odd’ as most parents stayed. But I knew that it would be worse for her if I did. She did cry each day for a few minutes when I left (or so I’m told), and it’s not nice walking away from a crying child, but I knew that it was the best for her and I just had to ‘mum up’ and do it.

On my return I was told that she had joined in brilliantly and I think she integrated so much better than she would have if I’d sat in the corner watching her.

So my suggestions for leaving children for the first time is as follows:

  • Make sure you explain clearly to your child that you’re going BUT coming back soon. You can even tell them what you are going to do while they are there;
  • Reassure them that they will have a lovely time;
  • Make your exit quick;
  • Use a confident voice and confident body language throughout;
  • Always return on time. You don’t your child to feel anxious if the other parents have arrived and you have not.

Ultimately, if the place you’re leaving them is supportive and professional, they will be fine. And remember, in most cases, it’s much worse for the parent than the child!

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