by Cora Megan, MA
After nearly four months at home and limited interaction with the outside world, your child will likely protest separating from you on their first days back. This is normal and a healthy expression of their feelings.
For young children, separating from a loved one is considered a healthy stressor, not a traumatic one. We know that children are resilient to most stressors and that they look to adults about how to feel. That means that if you are feeling stressed about the separation, they are going to sense that stress and their own stress level will increase.
Prior to the first day, take note of how you are feeling.
- What are you most worried about? Take steps to cope with those feelings, away from your child. Talk with loved ones and your provider. Gather information.
- Remind yourself that they are being left in loving and capable hands with people you have chosen to care for your child.
- Check in with your childcare center to learn about the precautions they are taking to lower the risk of spreading the virus.
- It’s OK for your child to feel sad or angry or frustrated. You may want to talk with your center’s teachers to learn exactly how they will help your child manage those emotions.
Early childhood professionals recommend best practices to look for in your providers’ responses to young children’s strong emotions. These age appropriate approaches are helpful when used by both parents and providers:
- Validate the feelings: You're really upset. You don't want your dad to leave.
- Empathize: You spent a lot of time at home with your family. You love your family so much.
- Let the feelings be, without trying to change them.
Typically, these feelings pass rather quickly. Your child will see something or someone interesting or exciting and want to play. You may ask your childcare provider to keep you in the loop and plan a practical way they can let you know when the child has
When a child is upset during a separation, it’s natural to want to comfort them or postpone the inevitable. This tends to be counterproductive. Young children are more successful at separating when the process is short and sweet. We encourage you to prepare your child for their new drop off routine in the days leading up to their return to school. Here are some examples of language you might use:
- When we get to school, your teachers and classmates will be playing outside.
- Then we will walk to the gate where you will have your temperature taken.
- After your temperature is taken, I will give you a hug and say, “See you later! I love you!”
- Then I will go home to work. I will pick you up after PM snack.
The past several months have been different for all of us, and children are no exception. The good news is that children are more capable than we sometimes recognize and you have the power to prepare your child in ways that will ease the transition.
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