3 Mindfulness Strategies for Educators to Help Calm Separation Anxiety

A couple of months into the year, and most of the morning drop off tears are subsiding.

But it’s inevitable that there will be one or two children for whom the distress of being dropped off at preschool is overwhelming.

The bottom lip begins to quiver, the tears flow and the magnet drawing them closer and closer to their carer gets stronger by the second, as the fear of goodbye grows.

Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, you’re ready to offer them endless cuddles, you’ve suggested you need your ‘special helper’ for the day, you’ve got a stack of fun activities ready to do with them.

And… you’re doing everything possible to show their carer that (hopefully) within minutes of them leaving, the tears will stop, they’ll play and learn happily and they’ll have a strong sense of belonging in your centre.  

But, for some children, even after all the tricks you’ve pulled out of the hat, they struggle deeply with the process of saying goodbye to mum, dad, nan, pop, grandma, or anyone who’s leaving them for THE WHOLE DAY!

Separation anxiety is typically noticed between the ages of 18 and 24 months, and in fact, is regularly seen in varying degrees in most children often into primary school years.

It’s a normal stage of development, and anxiety is a normal human experience.

But, depending on the coping skills we offer children and how such situations are handled by parents and caregivers, it can set the stage for recurring separation anxiety later.

There is argument to say that the quality and levels of anxiety in a child depend on how the people they are around the most handle anxiety. Children learn most skills by observing and copying those around them.

We thought we’d share how yoga and mindfulness can help little minds as well as grown-up ones.

As the child’s educator, there’s no doubt you want them to feel comfortable and happy in your care and in the centre they are attending.

Not to mention the elusive sense of belonging and wellbeing you want them to experience (EYLF Outcome 3).

But you also want the parent or carer to feel undeniably confident and trusting in your ability as an educator to deal with the tears, quivering lips and meltdowns at drop off, so you can continue to build open lines of communication and create opportunities for partnerships with the family (EYLF Principle 2).

This can be a real challenge when you’ve got other children who are also upset, or who want to start the craft activity, or jump in the sand pit.

Using my experience both as a parent and a yoga instructor, I’ve pulled together my 3 top mindfulness strategies for educators to use with those children who are very anxious or upset at drop-off time or indeed any time throughout the preschool day.

We recently created a bunch of play-based learning posters and put them into The Preschoolers Wellbeing Kit™ for educators, and have used these three mindfulness strategies to create the posters so that you, as an educator, have resources that are easy and effective to use with anxious children.

All the activities in the kit are also resources that parents can use at home.

This way, the child begins to feel a sense of belonging in your centre and is given an opportunity to know what to expect when they arrive at in your care.


Mindfulness Tip #1: Emotional Awareness & Regulation

When practicing yoga, there are different movements and poses that you can use to induce or control emotions. When the emotion of anxiety hits, the ‘fight or flight’ response is enabled in the human brain. In the situation of a child experiencing separation anxiety, all they can think about and feel is that their parent is leaving.

As their educator, you can use yoga to give the child the opportunity to use their body to shift that emotional focus, and to stop that fight or flight response. Put simply, it’s a distraction, but one that comes with huge long-term benefits. It will become a life skill they can use regularly throughout their life, and one that will come in very handy when taught properly, in their transition to school.

For example, one of play-based learning posters is called Find Calm with a GOYObreak. This poster uses specifically chosen yoga poses for preschoolers that slow the heart rate down. In turn, this will stop the fight or flight response and give the child the opportunity to shift their focus onto moving their body in a particular way.

Using movement to control anxiety is a valuable and hugely empowering life skill, and we’re on a mission to empower you to teach this life skill to all children.


Mindfulness Tip #2: Consistency & Repetition

Yep, that old trick of repetition!

There’s nothing new here with what I’m about to suggest, but it’s amazing how many people try new tricks and then file them away after a few weeks only to be forgotten and replaced with something shiny and new.

As a parent, I’m the first to admit I’m guilty of this!

So I suggest offering the posters to the family to be used consistently between the home environment and your centre. Get the family to download The Preschoolers Wellbeing Kit™ here so they have the same resource at home.

Then set up the routine. The child can copy the posters at home on the morning of their preschool days so that when that child arrives at your centre in your care you first line of communication can be to ask how they went with their posters this morning. Then to suggest you do them again together.

“Can show me how you did the Wake Up with a GOYObreak poster this morning?”

You get the idea.

That child then begins to develop a really strong connection between home and preschool AND the family have a routine that they can use to help that connection to grow. It will shift the families focus away from the dread of tears and preschool drop off and onto the routine you have created with them.

For families that may struggle with anxiety themselves, this is a great way to empower them with coping skills and practices that will then continue to project onto the child.

Mindfulness Tip #3: Imagination

We do love a bucket load of imagination! It’s just so much fun.

Personally, this is the tip I love the most.

It’s why we decided to focus on participation not perfection in our Stretchy Stories™.  

After teaching a handful of kids yoga classes, I realised that kids have a whole lifetime to perfect the technique of yoga and breathing (amongst so many other things in life!) but they only have a childhood full of opportunity for imagination.

The fifth poster in The Preschoolers Wellbeing Kit™ is blank.

Well, mostly.  

Once the child is comfortable with the routine you’ve created of practicing the posters at home, and then immediately after drop off, this is a great way to let their imagination run wild, for you to meet EYLF Outcome 4.1 (Children develop dispositions for learning such as curiosity, cooperation, confidence, creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, persistence, imagination and reflexivity)

This poster pack also includes a template for a Learning Observation using the blank poster.

It doesn't matter what movements the child comes up with!

It might be really fun for you to sit down with them and say, “can you make up five yoga poses based on animals”? Or maybe you suggest it’s based on food, or places they’ve been, or anything you think they might be interested in based on what you've learnt about their likes and dislikes.

It’s well document that yoga is linked with increased confidence, stress management and often better results in school years, but it can be a challenge to break this comment down into bit-sized useable tools and resources for educators and teachers.

So grab your copy of The Preschoolers Wellbeing Kit™ and join the growing tribe of educators using yoga in their centre to see positive changes in children’s anxiety.

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