A few years ago I wrote some recommendations for parents facing separation anxiety. You can find those recommendations here. tI wanted to write to the volunteers today. What about that kid who comes, kicking and screaming into your classroom (literally)? How do you help that little person feel safe and calm? It won’t happen every time but here are my recommendations.
1. Take the Lead
It’s heart wrenching to be a parent and watch your child cry as you leave. It’s hard to take that step and put your crying child over the door. As a volunteer, your best option is to clear it with the parent first, then take that kiddo. So say, “Is it OK if I take Emily?” And then take that crying child and tell mama you’ll see her soon. Mom will be put at ease knowing you are confident with the little one and she’ll be able to step away from the door a little easier. The longer the interaction at the door is, the harder it will be for everyone. It’s not fun but helping Mom get away can help everyone say goodbye a little easier.
2. Ask the Parents
As you take that kid over the door, ask if there are any recommended soothing techniques. Does she have a pacifier? A lovey? Does he like to be pushed in a stroller? Is there a favorite toy? Does he loves Youtube videos of tractors? Moms and dads usually have some tricks up their sleeve that can help if you just know what they are. At our house, Amazing Grace can solve almost any woe. But you have to know to try it. So ask the experts!
3. Take a Deep Breath
Little ones know if you are stressed. Take a deep breath, resolve to help this kiddo, and begin that sway and bounce (if the child is young). Staying calm, swaying, bouncing, and singing are all great ways to help kids start to calm their own bodies. My two personal favorites are lunges (yes really!!) and making a shushing noise. It works with almost all little ones, in my experience.
3. Give Them a Job
Kids as young as one can be comforted by having a specific task. Let them help you fill water cups or pick up toys. Let a preschooler be the special helper and set out snack. Often if kids know their help is needed they forget to be upset and start to calm down and settle into the routine.
4. Keep an Eye on the Clock
It’s smart to ask mom at the beginning how long is too long to cry. If you forget, though, it’s still a good idea to keep an eye on how long your little friend has been sad. If they have been crying more than 10-15 minutes, most parents want a call. When a kid is crying, sometimes minutes seem like hours. So checking that clock at the beginning and keeping a mental note of the projected “call time” will help you gauge when to actually call.
5. Use the visual schedule
Each of our rooms have a visual schedule (Toddlers and Above). Recognizing and repeating a child’s feelings (“I see you’re upset because you miss mom. It’s hard to be away from our mommies and it can be sad but Mommy always comes back.”) and then going through the schedule and explaining at which point Mom will come back can really help kids know there is an ending to this hour with people they don’t know. Often just knowing the schedule is enough to calm them down.
Not all kids will settle down their first time. Sometimes it will take a few visits before a child feels safe. Some of my favorite preschoolers to see in the hallway were little ones who had a very hard time adjusting and now love their time in Crossing Kids. Pray for the children in your classroom and especially the ones having the hardest time. What a great praise it will be when they finally feel safe and can stay with us and learn about Jesus!