Kindergarten Activities to Combat Separation Anxiety

The kindergarten child who manifests separation anxiety is a tiny bundle of tension and misery.  The following teacher tips, activities and songs help combat young children’s fears when parents must leave them at school.

Teacher tips –
For children who dread entering the classroom, your posture, voice and gestures are extremely important.  Instead of standing at the door, sit a few feet inside the classroom on a low chair.  Leaving the doorway free means children have more room to pass by and enter the room without feeling “trapped” in a new environment.  Sitting also puts you at their eye level instead of looming over them. In your greeting, use a calm, quiet voice to welcome them in.

Quiet activities –
Busy hands can help a nervous child relax and feel comfortable in a new environment. Provide a variety of quiet activities children can do choose from while you greet new children and their parents.  Allow parents to join in for a little while the first day or two as students get to know you.  The following activities can be set up in designated areas.

Coloring activities, Play Doh, foam blocks, puzzles and felt board activities keep little hands and minds busy.   A nature center is also a welcome spot and can be changed with the seasons.  Provide plastic magnifying glasses to study leaves, rocks, shells and other things up close.  A home life center should include appropriate items like dolls, shopping carts, pretend groceries, tools and simple furniture.

Exercise activities –
Moving around releases pent-up energy for the kindergarten child who suffers separation anxiety.  While outdoor exercise and fresh air are good, there are other things you can do in the classroom those first few days.  Move to music, do some jumping jacks, play Twister, toss bean bags and do other activities to expel energy and tension. Laughter is another way to release tension and anxiety, and the Stinky Sock game may be just the way to do it! 

Seat children in a circle for this indoor activity.  In the middle of the circle, place a laundry basket.  Inside the basket, place a plastic or Styrofoam cereal bowl in the middle and secure it with double-sided tape.  Begin by holding up a brand-new pair of socks (the funnier looking, the better) and clip the plastic tie connecting them.  Remove all stickers as a way of reassuring children you have never worn the socks.  Now take a sniff and comment that they actually smell nice and fresh, but you are going to *pretend* they are stinky. 

Ask what needs to be done with stinky socks.  Yes – they need to be washed!  Point out the bowl in the middle of the basket.  Tell children that you will pretend it has extra-powerful stink remover in it, and you’re going to try to toss your stinky socks in the extra-powerful stink remover before you wash them.  From a seated position, take your best shot.

If you miss the middle bowl, explain that the socks are still going to the laundry, but they won’t smell quite as fresh as if they had been soaked in the extra-powerful stink remover.   Now give each child a chance to toss the rolled-up socks.  Can anyone toss them into the extra-powerful stink remover?  This is a fun activity with lots of laughter, which also relieves anxiety.

Music and songs –
The power of music cannot be overstated.  Music can calm children down and help them rest.  It can also be used to energize and excite them.  As a teacher, you can use calm background music to relax your students as they say goodbye to parents and enter the room.

Songs can also be used to help the over-anxious student.  The words give a positive outlook on the separation experience and remind the children their parents will return when class is over.

Song # 1 (Tune: “Are You Sleeping?)

See you later, see you later,
I’ll be fine.  I’ll be fine.
I am growing up now, I am growing up now,
I’ll be fine.  I’ll be fine.  

See you later, see you later,
I’ll be fine.  I’ll be fine.
I’m in kindergarten, I’m in kindergarten.
I’ll be fine.  I’ll be fine.

Song #2 (Tune: “Ten Little Indians”)

I’ll have fun while you are working,
I’ll have fun while you are working,
I’ll have fun while you are working,
– See you after while!

I’ll be learning while you’re working,
I’ll be learning while you’re working,
I’ll be learning while you’re working,
– See you after while!

There are various ways to combat separation anxiety in the kindergarten child.  The teacher’s manner of greeting is important, along with a mixture of quiet activities and exercise.  In a few days, children who were once anxious will find the separation from parents is only temporary and is simply part of growing up.