From several years of serving with preschoolers, I know that consistency equals safety in the mind and heart of a preschooler. Based on that, I should not have been surprised by a recent explosive episode with one of my few who struggles with separation anxiety and behavior issues—even on good days! Due to some great changes, the space where my group had met since the beginning of the year had to be changed. As something of an afterthought, I pulled in some of the items from my former space because I knew there were some “favorite” toys my early arrivers liked.
When little Troy arrived, I took a deep breath because when his mom left, it often triggered a breakdown of epic proportions. Because his mother understandably struggles with how to handle this as well, it had become something myself and another leader tried to help him work through. On this particular morning, I was waiting for another adult leader and had a student leader assisting me. At first, a new toy caught Troy’s eye, but in a matter of seconds, he realized his mom had left, and a preschool size nuclear meltdown began. There was screaming, kicking, and then more screaming. The other leader quickly arrived, and between the two of us, we were able to soothe Troy. And amazingly, in 15 minutes, he was calm and engaging in our large group time and other activities.
That day was a great reminder of what creating a safe space looks like—especially for children who are very sensitive to change! Here are a few lessons I learned:
*If a room location needs to be changed, partner with parents by letting them know ahead of time. This is especially true for a child very sensitive to change.
*Make a special effort to make the new location look similar to the old one. New toys and activities are great indications for how much fun the new place will be, but if everything is suddenly brand new, it doesn’t necessarily feel safe for every preschooler.
*Consistency is key! If I had not been familiar with Troy, this meltdown could have been worse and even dangerous to my other few
*Student leaders rock! Even if a pretty chaotic situation, my amazing student leader had our other few on the other side of the room engaging them in an activity while we calmed Troy down.
*Did I mention partnering with parents? I need to know Troy’s mom better, even if it means some uncomfortable conversations to understand her situation (and his) in order to come up with a plan to help him feel safe through this separation anxiety .
How do you help create a safe place for your preschoolers – especially in times of transition?
Written by Gay Tucciarone