Question: I have a sweet three year old in my nursery class who is displaying signs of separation anxiety every morning when her mother drops her off.  She will cry for a minute or so and then I play a name game with the class to redirect her attention and she is fine.  Yet her Mom is nervous about her child’s crying.  How can I best explain to her that this is normal behavior for a three year old child?

Adele Brodkin: It’s understandable for the mother to be nervous about her child’s cries. Parents often don’t realize that crying at separation is normal behavior for children and that it indicates warm and loving attachments to their parents. You may best be able to help them both if the separation could be more gradual. It is often a good idea to invite a parent or grandparent to stay (on the sidelines) for a while each day, even the entire session, and then gradually wean the two from each other, with brief separations at first. That should not be seen as a defeat for anyone, including the little girl, her mom or you and the school.  It is just good and compassionate practice.  Everyone should be confident about the child’s ultimate growth toward successful separation.  But just as parents don’t expect to wean or toilet train toddlers or replace their cribs with a big (girl/boy) bed in a day or a week, separating in a day from the familiar and loving parent is too much to expect of many kids this age.  With your patient guidance, both the child and her parent should do just fine in time.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.