Settling-in to preschool, kindergarten or even primary school can be difficult purely due to the separation from parents or family. Some children are simply distressed every time they separate from their parents, not just at times of schooling.

Signs of stress may include:

  • Crying, clinging, calling for the parent or refusing to leave;
  • Being moody or uncooperative, finding verbal excuses (e.g. any kind of body aches), even being rude by talking back; or
  • Simply withdrawing and become very quiet, almost over-compliant.


What can you do as a parent, in order to help your child to deal with these issues?

  • Preparation:
  1. Go past the (new) building or even arrange a visit to the new classroom/ school.
  2. At home, assist by talking about the upcoming event, even if it does not seem well received by your child at the time.
  3. Gradually expand on the amount of time spent on this topic as the start date comes nearer.
  4. Talk about the routine at school or should the parent leave the house first, discuss what will happen. Always mention the time of reunion in specific terms and be honest about it.


For younger children “Later” has little meaning. Knowing that the time of reunion is “After Lunch”, “Before snack” or even “When you are in bed” are more helpful. Always be realistic and estimate later rather than earlier to save disappointment. If separation is over several days, use a concrete illustration like a calendar to count down the time, even from toddler-age onwards.


  • Link to home:

Something in your child’s pocket (it needs to be instantly available!) can work wonders…any photo of the family or just the parents; a drawn or written message from Mum or Dad; or a small object (e.g. scarf) may do the trick. Letting your child decide what he/she would like to carry in their pocket makes it an even more powerful tool…and don’t forget to tell the teacher about it.


  • Brief good-byes vs gradual withdrawal:

Many playgroup/ nursery leaders and early childhood teachers alike will advise you to have a brief and structured good-bye routine, and re-assure you that “He/ She‘ll be fine in 10 minutes” comment. Most would agree that this strategy works indeed for quite a number of children but not for all, especially if the child is particularly sensitive or prone to anxiety.

After trying the strategy for a week or two, see if there is a gradual shortening of the crying period. If that is the case, then continue. For children whose distress does not seem to be lessening, talk to the teacher to see if a “gradual withdrawal” approach can be implemented. Here, a parent may stay in the room but in the corner far away from the children and possibly with no eye contact. Try to leave after a set time period (e.g. 30 minutes) BUT warn the child in advance that this will happen! Do NOT try to sneak out! Lengthen or shorten the timing gradually as indicated by your child’s progress.

Similarly, if YOU are the one leaving the house, give 5 to 10 minute warnings before you go and experiment with the length of warning, which suits your child’s comfort zone.

Keep in mind a certain amount of ‘trial and error’ is always required, and some suggestions may not match your individual situation.