One of the most difficult things for family members and children new to child care and/or a new school is adjusting to the initial separation period. Experiencing tears from your child when he or she realizes you’re about to walk out the door is not easy. However, knowing that your child’s reactions (and your own!) are quite normal and predictable can help with the process.
Signs of Concern
Most children begin showing signs of concern about a family member’s absence around six to eight months of age. At this stage in their development, children do not yet grasp the concept of object permanence—that things and people still exist even though they are out of sight. The child cries because, in his or her mind, Mom may never return. As children grow, they learn that Mom or Dad will return. In the meantime, there are some things you can do to make this transition smoother for everyone.
Children need time to adjust to new environments and caregivers, so plan to visit the center/school several times before leaving your child the first time. For infants and toddlers, consider leaving them at the center for only a few hours at a time in the beginning, eventually building up to a full day.
Recognize in advance that you and your child may have difficulties separating. Young children often gauge situations by how adult family members respond to them. Therefore, try not to make your concerns too evident to your child. On the other hand, do not ignore or diminish your child’s concerns. For example, it is okay to tell your child, “I know you are sad when Mommy leaves, but I will think of you all day and will be back to get you after your nap.” Remember, too, that staff members at the center have a lot of experience with issues of separation, and are always willing to help you and your child work through the transition.
Having a routine during the first few weeks is essential. Because young children cannot tell time or even recall day-to-day events, their sense of security comes from predictable routines. Waking up in the morning, leaving your home, saying your goodbyes in the same way each day, and picking your child up from the center at the same time of day will provide much-needed consistency. Even if your routine occasionally changes, try to keep your child’s routine the same. Sometimes, having special rituals during drop-off and pick-up times can be helpful. After time, your child will learn that you will come back when you say you will. As important, a foundation of trust is established between you and your child—one that will make any future transitions easier.
About the Author
Megan Riede is the Senior Director, Education Programs with Knowledge Universe, the parent company of KinderCare. Megan oversees the curriculum development for all of the education curriculum programs (core and enrichment programs) taught within KinderCare. Additionally, she supports the training of the bilingual teachers dedicated to Knowledge Universe’s Bilingual Mandarin Immersion Program and partners with Knowledge Universe’s Singapore business to develop the Mandarin Curriculum as needed for KinderCare. Before coming to Knowledge Universe, she spent 4 years as a Producer at Leapfrog in Emeryville, CA. developing interactive toys for children ages 3 to 6. Megan holds a BA in Elementary Education from the University of Arizona.