I am sure that my three-year-old enjoys his daycare. He has friends there, and he enjoys learning new things. I know he has excellent teachers, too. And yet, every morning he resists going and tells me, “I don’t want to go to school. I want to stay home and play.” As much as I would like him to stay home, too, I know school is best for him. So, here is what I have been trying in an attempt to ease his separation anxiety on school days.
Recognize the legitimacy of your child’s feelings.
I repeat what my son says to me to show him that I understand how he feels. It is important to never try to change or deny his emotions. Even though they are not how I would feel in his situation, they are still valid and real to him. For example, I first repeat back to him what he says to me. So, after he tells me he doesn’t want to go to school, I say, “Oh, so you don’t want to go to school today.” He then knows that I am hearing what he says to me.
My favorite author Joanna Faber writes in her book, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, that it is important for parents to recognize all your child’s emotions—including negative feelings. She goes on to say that if the kids don’t think that we’ve accepted their feelings as legitimate, they will not be ready to listen to what we have to say. As adults, we should get this. Think about it for a minute. Don’t you expect family and/or close friends to recognize your feelings as legitimate, even if they don’t always agree?
Tell your child you’ll miss them while they are at school.
I always tell my son that I will miss him while he’s away because I want him to know that there are two sides to this equation, and him being gone all day isn’t always easy for me, either. I remind him that I always keep a photo of him close by so I can look at it when I miss him. You can also remind your child that, while they are at school, you are doing things that aren’t always just “fun.” You are going to the store, cleaning, doing the dishes, working—any number of things.
Brainstorm with your child what they can do to make themselves feel better when they miss home.
The first two weeks that we experienced this separation anxiety, I suggested ways he could cope with his feelings. Instead of telling him what he should do, I gave him a few choices and then let him choose his preference. For example, I suggested that he take a memento that reminds him of us (a family photo or a leaf he picked up during a family hike, etc) and take it out whenever he feels lonely.
This strategy has worked really well. Recently, he’s even started offering suggestions of things he can do at daycare when he feels lonely.
- He can use his craft time to do something fun like make a house out of paper for Bubble (his stuffed animal at home).
- He asked me to write him a note that says, “I miss you!” with hearts on it. He can keep it in his cubby and look at it when he gets lonely.
- Recently, he asked me to draw a picture of he and his brother on his lunchbox. I asked him if I could draw my face, too, but he said “NO!”
Separation is never easy for anyone; kids or parents! But, together we can work together to make the time apart fun and exciting for our kids. What do you do when your kids tell you they don’t want to go to school? Please share your ideas! I would like to try them out!