My toddler has just started attending play school for the first time, and is having trouble settling in. She clings to me and cries when I drop her off in the mornings. How can I help to make the transition easier for her?

Meg Faure answers:

I am sorry you are having such a tough time. It’s always difficult when your toddler has difficulty separating. Here are a few nuggets of sense to help you:

Firstly, you do not mention your toddler’s age. Up to three years old it is not necessary for toddlers to be pushed to leave the home and settle in playschool too early. If your little one is under 3 years old, consider a playgroup at home – get 4 little ones together in one of their homes and employ a trained Educare teacher to run a ‘playgroup’. This covers the toddler’s need for socialization in a more contained and homely space.

If you decide your little one (under 3 years) must go to school, try to ensure the group is no more than 4-6 children per carer. This means your little girl’s needs will be met and she will feel more secure.

Do not start playschool at the same time as another life upheaval such as the birth of a sibling. Rather wait a while until your toddler is settled with her sibling before starting school.

Make sure the school is on the same page as you are, regarding routines and structures in the day, it makes the transition from home to school easier.

Each toddler is different and their sensory personality will have a bearing on how easily they separate. Slow-to-warm-up babies often don’t take quickly to new situations (see Your Sensory Baby to determine your baby’s sensory personality). They consider a novel space, new people and a different routine to be a threat. This leads to a fight, flight or fight response. Your little one is responding to this stress by becoming anxious. Here are simple ways to handle her stress:

  • Talk about playschool and about the fun activities she does there.
  • Arrive earlier than the other kids for a few days so that she is settled when they arrive as opposed to coming in to chaos
  • Let her take her doodoo or comfort object to school with her – a security object makes a big difference.
  • When you arrive, tell her that you are going to read one story OR play one puzzle. Then sit down with her and engage in one–on–one play. When you are ready to leave, say goodbye lovingly and leave without looking back.

In principle, if she is starting playschool, give her time to settle, make the separation predictable and understand her response in the context of her sensory personality so that you can be empathetic.