Playing Away Preschool Separation Struggles!

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My four-year-old son goes to preschool two days a week, something he requested and chose to do. However, when he first started attending, the morning separation was hard for us both. While there wasn’t a huge amount of crying, there was a general unhappiness on preschool mornings, and some “tightness” in his behaviour, e.g. my son would not want to get dressed by himself when usually he does. When it came to say goodbye, he wouldn’t look at me, or even acknowledge what I was saying. I guessed it was too hard for him to do so, too many feelings involved. This made me question whether sending him off was the right thing to do, and I was feeling sad to see him unhappy! This was despite his teachers telling me he had a great time while he was there. Also, when he got home in the afternoon, he was usually quite off track. It wouldn’t take long for him to start fighting with his sister, or go bouncing off the walls, not listening to any instructions from me or being very thoughtful of anyone else.

So, recognising that some upset feelings were probably the cause of both the morning unease, and the afternoon craziness, I decided to play some games around the drop off scenario, and see if I could elicit some healing laughter. I picked a day when my son was not going to preschool, and started by asking him if he would like to play a game called “Dropping off at preschool”. He was interested, so to start off we role played me pretending to drop him off and say goodbye, all very light hearted and playful. He soon caught on, and started directing the play.

We started with the whole pretend routine, of making lunch, where I would pretend to want the special things he only has for preschool, “Please, please, please can I have a cheesestick too??” to which he would reply, “No, only if you are going to preschool, and you are too big to go!” and me pretending to be quite put out, much to his amusement!

We would then move on to getting dressed, getting in the car, and then the drop off (all without leaving the living room) and always I would plead to come with him, or have what he was having, or do what he was doing! And always he would laugh and say, “No! You are too big!” or “No, mums don’t come to preschool!” with a lot of laughter. The more silly and pleading I was, the more he laughed.

After a few practice games on non preschool days, I was ready to play on a preschool morning, and made sure I allowed some extra time. It worked really well! As soon as I saw him getting a little upset about the day, I would ask playfully, “Do we need to play dropping off at preschool?” He would agree, we would play and he’d laugh a bit, then continue getting ready. We did this off and on in our routine throughout the morning, and for the next few weeks after that. It started to make the good bye so much easier. It took a few more months until he was able to look me in the eyes and give me a hug and kiss goodbye, but I knew we were making progress right from the start, as the mornings were so much more fun when we were both playful and lighthearted, and he was much more cooperative and able to get ready on time.

As for the afternoons, I started to make sure I had dinner organised and was free to spend some quality time with him when he got home. This really helped, and so did a great game I learned from Patty, the “Keep the cushion on your lap” game for helping release tension around too many rules! I would put a cushion on my son’s lap, and say in a mock serious voice, “You have to keep the cushion on your lap, that is the rule! Keep the cushion on your lap or else!” And of course he would throw it off, I would pretend to be surprised and shocked that he broke the rules, etc, to much laughter! I think this really helped him adjust to having so many “rules” at preschool that he wasn’t used to at home. Giving him the time to offload any tension accumulated during the day was a great way to help him reconnect after the separation from me as well, and definitely made our evenings more peaceful and cooperative.

Lyra L'EstrangeLyra L’Estrange, Parenting by Connection Instructor, QLD, Australia.

Does your child need help with separation anxiety? Try the new online video class “Say Good-Bye to Separation Anxiety.”

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