Sensitive Outreach To Children With Anxiety

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Beth Pinyerd

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Ecclesiastes 3:1.

This past year, the pandemic has brought many challenges to families. Families have adjusted to preschool and schools closing, wearing masks, social distancing, being away from grandparents, not being able to travel, job losses due to the pandemic, traditional activities closing down and loss of loved ones to COVID-19.

Children and parents are interconnected and bonded in many ways. Children feel parents’ happiness, as well as their anxieties.

As we slowly embark on striving to get back to normal, many parents are feeling more comfortable with having their young children safely engage in learning and activities at school. Other safe community activities for young children are beginning to open up to families with young children. The Classroom Observer would like to revisit helpful information for infants, toddlers and preschoolers on separation anxiety. I hope this information from this teacher’s heart is helpful for families with young children.

There is some anxiety and fear that is normal for young children at different ages and developmental stages. When young infants cry when mom or dad leaves, it may be due to just normal, healthy bonding of infant to parents. Those who work with young children see this stop within three to four minutes when a parent leaves.

It is normal for some toddlers to express this fear because they sense that the parents will leave and not return. Too, so many times parents are met by a child in tears. The reason for this is that children are reminded how they felt when their parents left. When this happens, I have to explain to the parents that the child really had a good time.

Most of the time these little ones are laughing and engaging in learning and activities. So, moms and dads, don’t worry that your child has had a bad time; 99% of the time it is that they reflect upon the separation feeling that came when you initially left. Too, feel free to ask your child’s teacher how they have done.

Also, when younger children wander off by crawling or walking away, they may even be scared or anxious by the distance they have between them and their parents. This crawling or walking is progress, but it has created a distance from their parents that scares them.

Parents, there is light at the end of the tunnel; these unpredictable reactions to being separated from parents usually decreases between two and three years of age. As a teacher, I love to witness when morning separations become easier. It is so very good to wave goodbye to a parent with a smiling child in whom this stage of development has passed.

Something I have seen many parents do when this anxiety exists in their child is to ease out slowly until the child adjusts. As a parent, you have to realize that the class must go on, so you become a participant along with your child. The teacher of the class will deeply appreciate this outreach of understanding. Sometimes immediate separation is the answer. It depends on the personality and nature of your child. You know your child better than anybody.

Such behavior could also be due to tiredness, illness, major changes in a family (such as a move), a change in a regular routine or schedule, the birth of a new baby in a family, divorce, death or many other factors. Too, if a child is attending a new daycare center, preschool or has a new childcare giver, this can contribute to separation anxiety.

Many parents, in addressing the issue, have other family members or babysitters take care of the child for a night at a time. Too, being away from a child during a small time like church services, meetings or other activities is a good way for your child to begin to develop independence. Too, weekday preschools or “Mom’s Day Out” help with this developmental need.

One thing as a teacher and a parent that seems to connect a child to that feeling of closeness in going through this is to allow a child to bring an item from home, such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal to hold close. Be sensitive to the needs of the teacher and class and try not to send an item or toy that may be disruptive.

Parents, I know I have just touched the tip of the iceberg on this subject, but I do hope that these few suggestions will help you hold on to hope during this stage of development with your young child.

Beth Pinyerd
Classroom Observer

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