When we talk about anxiety, it's helpful to know there are different types that children commonly experience, as well as to consider what's relevant at the different ages and developmental stages. Our friends at Plunket explain.
Separation anxiety is a very common and normal fear that children have of being away from their parents or caregivers. It can manifest in many different ways, and can start when your child is around eight months old and reaches its peak in children aged 14 to 18 months. It usually goes away gradually throughout early childhood.
Stranger anxiety is similar to separation anxiety. It's when children get upset around people they don't know. It can happen from age seven to 10 months, and usually starts to go away after the child turns one.
Anxiety can present itself when a child is experiencing something for the first time, and is common when they start at an early learning centre.
Starting an an early learning centre
It's normal for you and your child to have mixed feelings about starting to attend an early learning centre, and for a child, separation anxiety and stranger axiety often go hand-in-hand during this time. It is common for your child to show their anxiety by crying when you leave them at the early learning centre, but then your child's teacher may call you five minutes later to say your child is calm and happily playing! This is a natural reaction, and is the most effective way for your child to show they are afraid — and anxious. Once the teacher has calmed them and they are distracted with fun activities, your child will forget about their anxious feelings. The next time they got to the early learning centre, the anxious feelings may reappear; but gradually, as they become familiar with their surroundings, people, and the new routine, these reactions will become less regular.
Making drop-offs less stressful
Here are some tips to help ease your child into their early learning centre environment and make drop-offs easier:
Stay positive. Children pick up on your emotions, so try to remain positive with a happy expression on your face during drop-off times. Afterwards, share your true feelings with your partner, friend, or a family member who can offer you support.
Visit your child's early learning centre with your child a few times before officially starting.
After a few visits, try leaving your child just for short periods (10 minutes), and build up to a whole day.
Acknowledge your child's feelings when they are upset, this is important to making them feel understood and valued. You could say, "I know you're worried that I'm going now and this makes you sadm but I will be back to take you home when you've enjoyed some fun time playing with your new friends."
Give your child something familiar from home to keep during the day, such as a blanket, pillow, or toy.
Make sure your child is enjoying a fun activity before you leave.
Tell your child when you are leaving, and when you'll be back to collect them. Don't sneak out without saying goodbye, as this may make things worse as your child won't know where you've gone and will be confused and harder to settle.
Depart promptly. Don't say you are leaving and then hang around, as this will confuse your child and drag the separation out. Be strong, even if you're teaful!
Don't criticise your child for being upset when you leave. What they are feeling is genuine.
When collecting your child, be positive and compliment them on how well they did without you.
If your child is old enought to talk, ask about their day and the fun things they did, or the new friends they made.
Talk about the next day and going to the early learning centre. Perhaps make up a new bedtime story about the separation so your child realises they are not alone in feeling afraid.
The number of days your child attends their early learning centre can affect their settlin progress. A child who attends their early learning centre one day a week may take longer to settle than a child who attends more frequently. This is simply because children attending fewer days a week have less time to become familiar with and comfortable in their new environment.
Remember, each child is an individual. What works for one child may not work for another, and how "Baby Number One" settled in may not be how "Baby Number Two" settles. There is no guaranteed age or stage when a child will grow out of anxiety. Be paitent and ask for help from your child care provider, Plunket Nurse, or call PlunketLine on 0800 933 922.