*Photo by 1313 Photography*
When I started teaching again I landed a position in the preschool department – teaching 2 year olds.
I thought – Hey! I’m the mom of a 2 year old! We’ll sing songs, change diapers, get stickers, take a nap… This will be CAKE.
Then the first day happened and I had 50% of my little class crying hysterically – completely undone by the fact that they couldn’t be with their mamas (and I seriously could not blame them).
**If you had seen the emotional state of my classroom on the first day last year you would have wanted to be with your mother too.**
Did you know some kids can cry so hard they throw up?
Did you know some kids get aggressive and try to kick you?
Talk about getting thrown in the deep end.
As soon as pick-up time was over (and after I got done crying, myself), I made it my personal mission to be prepared with EVERY SINGLE POSSIBLE trick in the book to talk a toddler down off the ledge of an emotional CRISIS.
And I have 8 NEW precious kiddos coming to my room on Tuesday so I need to be prepared for what’s coming.
((Hopefully what’s coming involves smiles and giggles instead of me ending the day with hearing loss and in the fetal position.))
- PREP the parents in advance. I send a letter home about separation anxiety before school begins. You can find it HERE. Getting parents on board with you is CRITICAL to helping develop a successful classroom routine and atmosphere.
- Don’t let parents linger. A quick good-bye is best!
- Sing a song (start with the Wheels on the Bus and If You’re Happy and You Know It and go from there).
- Blow bubbles together (it’s hard to cry when also trying to blow into something).
- Let the child bring in a lovey or photo of their family from home to keep in their cubby. I like how THIS LADY has a special shelf for framed photos of her students’ families.
- Acknowledge the child’s feelings. Say, “You miss your mommy,” then follow up with, “You will see her soon.”
- Read books like The Kissing Hand or Llama, Lllama Misses Mama or Bye Bye Time that deal with the concept of being away from parents.
- Hold the child and slowly count to 10 together.
- Post a visual schedule in your room so the children can see how close they are to being with their mommies (or other caregiver) again.
- ACT CONFIDENT – stay calm. Keep your voice happy and upbeat. If you start to feel otherwise, just imagine me looking you in the eye and saying, “You got this, girl!”
- Give student a squishy ball or pom pom and let them put it in their pocket and squeeze it whenever they feel anxious.
- Hang in there – it might take several weeks to build trust and rapport with the children.
- Put on a fun CD and dance.
- Make sure parents say goodbye before they leave – sneaking out is not helpful.
- Don’t spend a lot of emotional energy on the anxious child – be loving and reassuring, but carry out daily plans as usual. Occasionally give child a gentle pat on the head. Eventually they should see that everyone else (including you) is having fun and they should too!
- Give the child a calm down glitter jar.
- Never send a crying child home – this reinforces the idea that if they cry, they will get their way.
- With that said, keep in mind that some young children (especially 2-3 year olds) might not be ready for school yet. Make sure you discuss this possibility with your school’s headmaster and the parents in extreme situations.
- If other kids complain about the noisy child, encourage classroom unity by saying something like, “So-and-so is missing his mommy. He needs a little extra time to learn how school works. Let’s show him how much fun school is!”
- Bring out a puppet.
- Go outside and play with chalk or a water table.
- Make that student a special helper – give him/her a specific task like setting out the puzzles, hanging up name cards, or passing out the crayons.
- Have an established routine like a special hello song you can sing at the same time each morning – familiarity breeds comfort.
- Pull out a pinwheel.
- Have a basket of ‘back-up’ lovies (small stuffed animals, vibrating baby toys, etc.) for the children to hold.
- Make sure you have a helper in your room the first week (if you do not already).
- Tell them that you miss your mommy too and follow up with something positive like, “I’m so proud of you for being such a big boy/girl and coming to hang out with me today!”
- See if Daddy can drop off the child instead of Mommy.
- Reassure the parent! Say things like, “This is TOTALLY normal. Don’t worry about a thing! We are going to have a great day!”
- Have a Cuddle Bear Chair – set up a small chair with a stuffed bear. Allow sad children to sit in the chair with the bear and tell the bear their problems.
- Try using these cute No Cry GoodBye Punch Cards from HERE.
- Suggest parents make a Family Photo Book like THIS ONE or a Family Necklace like THIS ONE for their child to bring to class.
- Have the parent draw a heart on the child’s hand like THIS.
- Make a Kiss Box.
- Play with SHAVING CREAM (this is such irresistible fun!).
Even with all the tricks, I still had a student that cried every. single. morning he came to school.
For the entire year.
On the morning of the last day I gripped the steering wheel and prayed in the car, “Lord? Could I just have one day? PLEASE?”
And sure enough – on the last day of school this precious little boy did not cry.
So maybe that is our biggest tool when it comes to teaching children who struggle with separation anxiety –
And possibly a nice glass of Merlot.