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Preschool and Daycare in the Covid Era - Handling Separation Anxiety

A few weeks back we had done a blog post on sending your child to daycare in the Covid era. Today, we go one step ahead in that. A child is the most precious being in any parent's life. Parents spend months preparing for their arrival, and then spend the next few months to years creating the most secure and loving environment for them. However, there comes a day when the child must leave the security of that nest. For some, it happens as early as six to eight months, when they go to daycare, for some, it happens a little later, when they go to preschool. At this stage, every parent and child goes through what is known as separation anxiety. We have witnessed that over the years at Morning Glorie, preschool and daycare in Gurgaon. For any parent, this can be a particularly tense experience, handling it right can lead to a rewarding outcome.

Understanding Separation Anxiety

First up, it is important to understand why separation anxiety occurs. For this, we need to put ourselves in the child's shoes. Understand the world as they have seen it so far. They have an immediate family unit, that has always been around them. They have a home, which they have learnt is their space. While they may be used to one parent stepping out to work (a father, in most cases), their mother has always been with them. In some cases, they may have learnt to be with their grandparents, even if both parents are not around. When they are going to the park or on playdates, there is always a comfortable adult accompanying them.

This changes radically when they are going to daycare or preschool for the first time. Now, they have to leave the comfort and security offered by the place called home, and the adults in the family - both at the same time. Parent-toddler programs often facilitated this transition, or parents were asked to spend some time at school while they settled down, but in the Covid era, that may no longer be possible in the interest of minimum exposure. Even if this were possible, the transition to a parent-free space is likely to be accompanied by some degree of separation anxiety - this may vary for each child.

Notice my use of the word "left". This is where the child's psyche comes into picture. The separation anxiety stems from a feeling of abandonment -  a two or three year old takes time to comprehend that the parent comes back, and that the school is another safe and comfortable zone for them. This is the period where you may witness tantrums at home, not wanting to go to school or daycare, in extreme cases, falling mildly sick. 

Understanding your child's perspective can help you see through this phase better. Always remember, your child's preschool and daycare must be a partner in this journey - it is important for you to be on the same page to ease this journey for your child.

Know that you are not alone in this journey

While the degree of separation anxiety may vary for each child, always remember that you are not alone in this journey. Other children and other parents all go through this, and with the right approach, it shall pass.

Understand how the school handles the process 

This is crucial. You are entrusting your child's learning and care to someone you do not know. While it is important to trust that the school knows what they are doing (coming with experience), it is also important to know their process.

1. How do they provide the individual attention which a child leaving home for the first time needs?

2. Did they discuss your child's specific needs with you at the time of counselling?

3. How do they involve you in the process?

4. Is there transparent communication? 

Maintain a positive atmosphere at home

There are two aspects to this -

1. Build up on the excitement of going to school. Discuss with your child on all the fun things they can expect from school - new toys, new friends, some activities they may enjoy like sand pit, or water activity etc. Start this before they start school (even if they are too small to really comprehend it long term), and continue even when dealing with meltdowns during their first few days.

2. Do not focus on the negatives - you do not want to build the pressure for your child. No discussions on why aren't you enjoying, or other children are happy. Yes, do discuss their fears with them, so they know you are in their corner. 

Start with a short duration at the preschool and daycare

Children going to preschool or daycare for the first time are very small. A few hours matter a lot in the duration of the day. To ease the process of them settling down and dealing with separation anxiety, give yourself the time to start them off with a shorter duration away from home. You can start with an hour, and gradually extend till your full requirement.

At our preschool and day care in Gurgaon, we often have parents coming to us at the last minute - they need to leave their children in daycare from 9 to 7, starting day 1. Give yourself the time to settle them down slowly. We always tell parents they need to be around, so we can call them before the child feels too anxious. That way, they know mamma and papa are coming back once they have had their share of fun. Preschool and daycare should not be a traumatic experience.

Do not transfer your anxiety to your child

Had to be said. We understand that this is a tense and anxious time for you too - it takes a lot of courage and strength to send your child to school, especially daycare. As a parent, you are often riddled with guilt too. Please don't :)

A preschool and daycare is your partner in this process - we are there to make this not just a smooth journey, but one filled with lots of love and fun and laughter, with learning as a byproduct. But to get there, it is important that you do not transfer your anxiety to your child. Children perceive body language, and react accordingly. At times, it may take a lot of effort, but this must be done. As a for instance, your child may cling on to you during the drop. If you cling back, they know you do not want to leave them too. Be gentle and loving, but softly hand them to your their teacher. Also make sure to not sneak out on them - that can only increase their feeling of abandonment. Say a happy see you soon - that tells them you are coming back.

Communicate frequently with your child's teachers

Your child's teacher knows that they are fully settled ONLY when they behave the same at home and at preschool and daycare. Now I am not talking about a situation where the children may be demanding at home but teacher's pets at school. We are going more fundamental - happy in similar situations in both places, expressing anger at similar situations and so on. Constant communication with the teachers can help you both assess the progress and dissipation of separation anxiety.

The child's teachers have to play the guiding role in making a child feel so comfortable and loved, that they begin to enjoy school. 

You will know when that transition has happened, and while it may be a harrowing initial few weeks, pass on your strength to your child during this period. 

Next Up - Pushing Children Beyond Their Comfort Zone - Striking the Right Balance


  1. Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site.It really gives Covington Daycare an insight into this topic. 

    1. Always important for us to keep learning and growing. At Morning Glorie, we aim to keep learning every day. Our experiences teach us as much as those of peers.


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