Ask the Child Care Health Team - Separation Anxiety
Dear Child Care Team,
Sean, a 3 year old, has been at our child care since he was six months old, and he has never had a hard time saying goodbye to his mother. Recently Sean has been reluctant to come to child care and cries and clings to her at drop off time. He is fine after mom leaves, but when she comes to pick him up he doesn't want to go home. His parents report that nothing has changed at home. What can I do? What should I advise his mother?
It's often puzzling when children who appear happily adjusted to a familiar childcare suddenly resist going. You were wise to talk with Sean's parents about any possible changes at home. It sounds to me like Sean is trying to work out some ideas about separation. Learning to say goodbye isn't always easy. It is something that is learned in different ways throughout a child's development.
Sean is making the developmental transition into his pre-school years. He is learning to be more independent and to mastering a wide range of social and problem solving skills. His important relationships are changing as he starts to do more for himself and leave "babyhood." Sean's reluctance to leave at the end of the day, and his crying at the start of the day, suggest that he is trying to work out control over the comings and goings of the most important people in his life.
Given this understanding, spend extra time talking with Sean about how he misses his parent and how hard it can be to say goodbye. Advise his mom to develop a drop-off ritual that is consistent and includes "saying goodbye" on the way to childcare rather than at drop-off time. Let Sean know you are delighted to see him and help him make the transition to child care. At the end of the day advise mom to give him some time to finish his activities and share his day at pick up. If time issues are critical help mom make the home-school transitions easier. Before mom arrives, help Sean identify some things he would like to show her and let him get ready for her arrival.
Though Sean will likely regain his ability to have happy goodbyes, the issue of separation is very important and will likely come up again throughout his development.
-- Child Care Health Team