Separation Anxiety in Preschool

Do you dread the first day of school? Teachers often have “schoolmares” – or nightmares about the first day of school, long before it ever arrives.

Along with the unknown comes fear, it’s only natural. Each new school year brings many unknowns to preschool and kindergarten teachers when it comes to challenging behaviors. We never know what new challenges await us each year, it’s always a surprise.

One of the biggest challenge any early childhood teacher faces on the first day of school is separation anxiety. In this post we will look at ways to help teachers and children cope with separation anxiety.

How to Handle Separation Anxiety in the Classroom

Challenging Behaviors Book Study

Welcome to the challenging behaviors book study. For those of you just joining us, the details about the book study can be found here.

Looking for solutions to challenging behavior problems in your early childhood classroom? You’re in the right place! We invite you to join the Challenging Behaviors book study! This virtual discussion will always be available to you.

I suggest following the book study guide Karen at Prekinders has put together that includes all of our book studies and has links to each discussion.

Addressing Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood
{Disclosure} Amazon links included below for your convenience.

Addressing Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood Settings

The book Addressing Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood Settings: A Teacher’s Guide by Denno, Carr, and Bell was used as a resource for this post. This book is a comprehensive toolkit for teachers of young children that is well organized and includes a CD full of helpful, printable resources.

What is Separation Anxiety?

Teachers aren’t the only ones who fear the first day of school. Young children can also become very fearful of being in a new environment. When separated from their families for perhaps the first time, young children may become very fearful and anxious. This fear of being apart from family or a specific caregiver is called separation anxiety.

Types of Separation Anxiety


Each child is unique and will experience separation anxiety in his or her own way. Some children may experience extreme physiological responses to being separated from caregivers including rapid heart rate and increased levels of stress hormones.

Three different types of responses to separation anxiety have been identified; they are active, quiet, and aggressive. I know which one you’re hoping to get in your classroom! It’s no surprise that the types of responses children exhibited were directly related to the behavior of the caregiver.

Those parents or caregivers who stayed in the classroom for a few minutes, talked to the teacher, and talked positively about school had children who were active and responded well to being separated.

Children whose parents were less socially active and dropped them off quickly were more withdrawn and less likely to interact with their peers.

Those parents who were the most fearful and exhibited their apprehension through body language and words were more likely to have children who reacted to separation with extreme emotional outbursts- or tantrums.

How to Ease Separation Anxiety on the First Day of School

What to Do About Separation Anxiety in the Classroom

1. Guide Parent Behavior
2. Create a Visual Daily Schedule
3. Create a Calm and Caring Classroom Environment

Guide Parent Behavior
One thing I do to help guide parent behavior is to teach parents how to talk to their children about the first day of school BEFORE the first day of school. I usually do this at our Parent Orientation event.

Some parents may not have had positive experiences with school and are inadvertently passing along those negative feelings and emotions to their children. I provide examples of positive phrases parents can say to their children to help prepare them for the first day of school.

Create a Visual Daily Schedule
The authors discuss how some children, especially those children living in extreme poverty, may have inconsistent home lives. This inconsistency often contributes to feelings of uncertainty, fear, and stress in children.

All young children crave consistency and routine, having a visual daily schedule will help all students feel safe and secure in their new classroom environment.

When children are experiencing separation anxiety I gently guide them to our visual picture schedule and ask them to help me identify where we are in our daily routine. Then, we count the number of pictures left until the final picture, which signals the end of the day.

Create a Calm and Caring Classroom Environment
Starting your day with routines and rituals will go a long way to help kids feel safe and secure in the classroom and ease separation anxiety. In the book Addressing Challenging Behaviors in Early Childhood Settings: A Teacher’s Guide the authors talk about the importance of children learning to love school and their teachers.

Some of the ways I have created successful routines and rituals is to greet the children at the door each day. A friendly smile, a hug, or a high-five will go a long way in getting the day off to a great start. Once they enter the classroom, the children put away their belongings, then locate their name card on a table and place it in a pocket chart. Once we are all together we sing a welcome song- my favorite is Welcome to School by Dr. Jean.

Just as important as the beginning of the day is the end of the day- children need closure too. We gather together in a large group and sing a good-bye song as we move our clip down on our visual picture schedule to indicate the end of another successful day. One of my favorite good-bye songs is See Ya Later Alligator, also by Dr. Jean.

What to Do if Kids Cry on the First Day of School

  • Never bribe or negotiate a “deal” (if you stop crying I’ll give you this…)
  • Never send them home- this sends the message that they can get their own way if they throw a tantrum
  • Speak positively and cheerfully
  • Stay calm
  • If other children complain about noisy crying say, “Yes, Jimmy is crying because he misses his mom. He needs some time to learn how school works. Let’s show him how much fun ____ is and maybe he will join us.” Then move along to your next activity.
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings (I know you miss your mom, you’ll see her soon.)
  • Invite the child to join in activities but don’t force them to participate if they are overly distraught.

Graduate Credit


You can earn graduate credit from Concordia University for your participation in this book study, learn more and sign-up HERE. Please read the Frequently Asked Questions for answers to questions regarding graduate credits from Concordia University. You can sign-up at any time.

Happy reading and stay tuned for our next topic which will be hosted by XXXXXXXXXX

Challenging Behaviors Book Study Button
Check out the links below for more discussion about challenging behaviors in the classroom.

How to Help Kids Make Good Choices

Have you ever told a child to “make good choices?” How did that work out for you? Most teachers struggle with challenging behaviors such as this on a daily basis.

Making good choices is a lot like learning how to tie shoes for young children; it’s a skill that develops gradually over time as they mature. Young children in preschool and kindergarten need lots of modeling and support when it comes to learning how to make good choices. They don’t intend to make bad choices; they just need more practice and support making good ones.

These are some tips that will help you support your students as they learn how to make good choices.

How to Teach Kids to Make Good Choices
{Disclosure} Amazon links included below for your convenience.

Welcome to the challenging behaviors book study. For those of you just joining us, the details about the book study can be found here.

It’s never too late to join the book study! Because it’s a virtual discussion the posts will always be available to you. Karen at Prekinders has put together a book study guide that lists all of our book studies and includes links to each discussion.

The book Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk was used as a resource for this post. I encourage you to read this book if you would like to learn more about how to empower children and help them learn how to make good choices.

Challenging Behaviors Book Study: Teaching with Love and Logic

What is Love and Logic?

Love and Logic is a very simple philosophy, it’s all about developing stronger relationships with children. In the book Teaching with Love and Logic, the authors show us how creating stronger relationships with students can lead to more cooperation and a more rewarding teaching and learning experience for everybody.

Basically, Love and Logic shows you how to avoid power struggles and offer choices to children. Instead of controlling children’s behavior and making all their choices for them, Love and Logic empowers children to make their own choices. When children feel empowered they learn more, bottom line. They learn more because less time is spent trying to control their behavior.

The Truth About Behaviors Charts in the Classroom
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you here- those cute little behavior charts hanging on the classroom wall that use cards, tickets, or clothespins to broadcast to the world who is and isn’t making good choices are tools that control children’s behavior. They don’t change children’s behavior, they just track the behavior. The kids who are “good” are always on “green” and the kids who aren’t are always on “red” and nothing ever changes. Valuable learning time is wasted remembering to move clips and fill out charts. If you’re looking for a way to work smarter instead of harder Love and Logic allows you that freedom.

Challenging Behaviors Book Study: Love and Logic
Do you know what other population gets controlled in that way? Prisoners. Inmates in prisons are told when to eat, sleep, and shower. Inmates don’t get to make choices; all of their choices are made for them. Many inmates are in prison because they had difficulty making good choices. Do you see a pattern here? As teachers, we are not prison guards controlling inmates, our job is to guide and facilitate learning – and that includes behavior.

Challenging Behaviors Book Study: How to Offer Kids Choices in the Classroom

How to Offer Kids Choices


Now that you know what Love and Logic is all about here are some ways you can use it in your classroom to help your students make good choices.

Making a demand: Share the cars!
Offering a choice: Would you rather have the blue car or the red car?

“When we offer kids a choice instead of making demands, no power struggle begins. When we make a demand we own the wise choice, leaving the child with only one way to win the power struggle- by making a foolish choice. When presented with wise choices the child will be successful and feel empowered.”

You can empower children by offering them choices throughout the day, not just when behavior issues arise. For example:

  • Would you rather sing Old MacDonald or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?
  • Would you rather read No, David! or Mrs. Wishy Washy?
  • Would you rather use crayons or colored pencils?

By offering small choices you are making deposits in a “savings account” from which you can later make withdrawals. Simply put, offer small choices throughout the day and when it comes time to offer a bigger choices involving behavior you will have already established a predictable routine that sets kids up for success.

Enforceable Statements

Enforceable statements are invitations instead of demands. When you demand that a child does something they may refuse because they feel controlled, but when you invite them to do something they are much more likely to do it. Here are some examples:

Demand: Stop playing in the bathroom!
Enforceable statement: I’ll be taking everybody who is ready to the playground in a moment.

Demand: We’re not going to lunch until it’s quiet!
Enforceable statement: We’ll go to lunch when its quiet. That’s ok, I can wait.


What to Do if Kids Don’t Make Good Choices

  • Avoid making demands (Stop talking!)
  • Avoid making threats (If you don’t stop talking you’re going to time out!)
  • Avoid power struggles (arguing “Yes you did!” “No I didn’t!”)
  • Offer choices (ones you can live with)
  • Use logical consequences

I love this quote from page 20,
“You can’t make people angry and sell them something at the same time.”

Think of your students as customers and you’re trying to sell them something- learning! They’re not going to buy it if they’re angry with you, are they?

Teaching with Love and Logic has so much more to offer, these tips are just a brief glimpse into a philosophy that I have embraced with great success for many years. I invite you to explore it with an open mind and adopt these techniques into your classroom.

Graduate Credit


Don’t forget, you can earn graduate credit from Concordia University for your participation in the book study, learn more and sign-up HERE. If you have any questions about earning graduate credit from Concordia University please read the Frequently Asked Questions. You can sign-up at any time.

Happy reading and stay tuned for our next topic which will be hosted by Kathy Griffin of Kathy Griffin’s Teaching Strategies on Friday, July 18.

Challenging Behaviors Book Study Button
Check out the links below for more discussion about challenging behaviors in the classroom.

How to Get Kids to Pay Attention

Have you ever tried reading a book to a large group of young children and felt like you were playing whack-a-mole? It seems like they just keep popping up and interrupting- especially at the beginning of the year!

As teachers and parents we all know how difficult it can be for young children to pay attention.

Getting kids to pay attention is one of the most challenging behaviors we have to face in the preschool or kindergarten classroom.
How to Get Kids to Pay Attention
{Disclosure} Amazon links included below for your convenience

This post is part of our summer book study on challenging behaviors in the classroom If you’re just joining us, all the book study details can be found here.

The book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom by Thomas Armstrong was used as a resource for this post. If you would like to learn more about how incorporating strategies that address Multiple Intelligences can help keep kids engaged and on-task, I encourage you to read this book.

Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom

Learning Styles


Have you ever had “that kid” in your class? You know, the one who was like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Chances are; that kid had a different learning style, one that wasn’t easily identifiable.

Learning styles- or Multiple Intelligences- are the different ways in which each person learns best. Think about yourself as a student, did you struggle with reading? Math? How do you learn best?

In his book Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, author Thomas Armstrong lists the eight intelligences; they are:

  • Linguistic- Uses words effectively orally or written.
  • Logical-mathematical- Capacity to use numbers effectively.
  • Spatial- Ability to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic- Expertise in using one’s whole body to express ideas and feelings (e.g. actor, athlete, dancer).
  • Musical- Capacity to perceive, discriminate, transform and express musical forms.
  • Interpersonal- Ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, and feelings of others.
  • Intrapersonal- Self-knowledge and ability to act and adapt on the basis of that knowledge.
  • Naturalist- Expertise in the recognition and classification of numerous species in the environment.

If you don’t think this book is about early childhood, I encourage you to take a look at the table on pages 10-11. Listed in the developmental column are the ages at which these intelligences arise. It’s fascinating to note that almost all of them emerge in early childhood!

Since young children can’t tell us how they learn best, it’s up to us to identify their different learning styles and adapt our teaching methods to include strategies that will help them learn.

When you take the time to identify the different learning styles of the children in your classroom, you will be meeting their individual needs and they are more likely to be engaged and attentive.

Which ones best describe you? I’m linguistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

Getting Kids to Pay Attention in the Classroom

Teaching Tips


If we want kids to sit still and listen to a story, but we just spent ten minutes doing calendar, it’s going to be a tough sell. Many will have difficulty with remaining still for that long because their attention spans are small, just like they are.

Here is my favorite tip for smooth transitions using Multiple Intelligence strategies from the book:

  • Linguistic- Have a daily schedule with printed words displayed in your large group area.
  • Musical- Sing a catchy transition song or chant (see words below).
  • Bodily-kinesthetic- Wave your hands in front of you like the “wipers on the bus” as you sing the song.
  • Spatial- Include pictures on your daily schedule and clip a clothespin to the corresponding picture as you make the transition.
  • Logical-mathematical- After transitioning, count how many more segments are left in the day.

Transition Chant(traditional tune heard at sporting events- of mixed origins as relayed by Dr. Jean)

Nah, nah, nah, nah,
Nah, nah, nah, nah,
Hey, hey, hey,
(insert word) time!

If you take the different learning styles of your children into consideration, transitions will be less difficult to manage.

On page 114 of Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, Armstrong has some fantastic transition tips for those of you who like to use classical music in the classroom.

The following are suggestions for inviting children to help create and communicate classroom rules using Multiple Intelligences:

  • Linguistic- Write or print the rules and post them in the classroom.
  • Logical-mathematical- Number each rule.
  • Spatial- Use symbols to represent each rule, such as a picture of a shoe to represent walking.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic- Give each rule a specific gesture, such as finger to lips, two fingers to represent walking, etc.
  • Musical- Set the rules to a tune or a chant and sing them with your class.

Once you have incorporated Multiple Intelligences into your classroom rules, you will have greater success gaining the children’s attention and establishing a cooperative classroom environment.

Importance of Balanced Schedules in the Classroom

Reasons Some Kids May Not Pay Attention

  • The classroom schedule may not be well balanced.
  • For many young children, your classroom will be their first experience in a large group setting. This can be overwhelming and over-stimulating for some, but the novelty will begin to diminish gradually over time.
  • Some children may not be native English speakers. Second language learners will need more time and patience as they begin to absorb their new language. It’s not that they won’t pay attention; it’s that they don’t understand what is being said.
  • Some children may be used to one-on-one attention received at home. They are the center of the universe in their own home but are just one of many in the classroom. It may take time for these children to get used to being in a large group setting.
  • Just because a child is physically four or five years of age does not mean that is the level at which they are functioning. Children with special needs and developmental delays must be given more time and patience as they develop the ability to focus and pay attention.

Activities in the classroom need to be varied. If the daily schedule is not balanced with movement and listening activities, young children will have more difficulty paying attention.

The good news is that gradually, their attention spans will increase and they will be able to focus for longer periods of time. All children, regardless of their native language or delays will benefit from engaging songs and fingerplays that incorporate movement.

What to Do if Kids Aren’t Paying Attention

  • Avoid raising your voice.
  • Avoid making threats (“If you don’t pay attention you will have to go to time out!”).
  • Avoid command statements (“Pay attention!”).
  • Use positive phrases with a calm tone. For example “we’re going to read a fun story now about a boy who buys some magic seeds! The children who are ready to listen to the story are looking at the book.”
  • Sing a fun song or fingerplay.
  • Invite children to select their favorite song or fingerplay.
  • Take each child’s strengths into consideration. If a child is not paying attention and you know that child responds best to bodily-kinesthetic activities, use a quick movement activity to capture his or her attention. For example, “If you can hear me clap your hands.”

Graduate Credit


Don’t forget, you can earn graduate credit from Concordia University for your participation in the book study, learn more and sign-up HERE. If you have any questions about earning graduate credit from Concordia University please read the Frequently Asked Questions. You can sign-up at any time.

Happy reading and stay tuned for our next topic which will be hosted by Kathy Griffin of Kathy Griffin’s Teaching Strategies on Wednesday, July 9.

Challenging Behaviors Book Study Button
Explore the links below for more discussion about challenging behaviors in the classroom.

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