Ways to Prevent Separation Anxiety at Dance Class
Q: My 4 year-old has been fine with drop off at school and attending dance class on her own for months now. All of the sudden, she is having an absolute fit at both. She’s so enthusiastic when we are home and is the one who gets herself dressed without any prompting but as soon as we get there she won’t go into class. I kept thinking it would get better again but it’s been going on for 2 weeks and I’m at my wit’s end! I’ve tried everything, going in with her for a couple of the dance session but now I tell her I can’t and she has to do it on her own or we have to go home. I try pointing out all the other kids in class and the mommies waiting outside. I’ve even tried telling her if we go home, she will have to go and sit in her room. Help! ~Liz T.
A: Dear Liz,
First, it is very normal for this to come and go throughout the preschool years and even into early elementary. Obviously, your daughter is in the stage where it is has re-emerged. It can be very frustrating because we sometimes feel like our child just took a giant backwards step. But one of these days, she’ll go to jumping right into school and dance class. See our infographic below for some information on common ages, scenarios and factors that affect separation anxiety.
Obviously dance class is very different from school. You can’t just leave her there, you have to stay. So she knows you are on the premises, AND the dance teacher can’t be taking time out to help your daughter calm down and connect. So this can make this situation even more stressful and difficult to navigate the separation anxiety in these circumstances.
Given what you’ve told me, my guess is, she gives you a pretty tough time when you tell her you can no longer go in with her and it’s probably become extremely frustrating for both of you. Because you’ve already gone in with her a couple of times, telling her you can’t go in now doesn’t make any sense to her. She’s probably doing her best with her 4 year-old brain and vocabulary to convince you to come back into the dance class and you are trying your hardest with your adult brain to help her and reason with her. Which leads to my second note to keep in mind, it’s impossible to reason with a child in the midst of experiencing separation anxiety about her fears. She has no idea why she’s afraid. So asking why she’s afraid or trying to point out the other kids who are going to class without mommy will could actually make her feel worse, and is likely increasing her anxiety. So there are 2 very good options. Neither is worse or better. It’s just what sounds like the best fit for you.
You can go into class with your daughter and sit and watch each week until she is ready to go on her own once again. There is nothing wrong with doing this. It supports her through this stage and let’s her know you are available to her.
You can let her know before you leave the house, that if she’s going to go to class, “You have to go on your own. If you do not go in on your own, you’ll have to take a break from dance for a few months. We can try again.” Have her repeat it back to you so you know she understands. If you do this, you must stick with it. You can’t dawdle, beg, plead, threaten or coerce once she gets there. If she doesn’t go into class when you get there, you can give one warning, “Remember what we talked about at home?” “It’s time to go into class.” Chances are she will do as she has been doing and try to get you to come in. This when you summon your most calm self and say, “I can see you’ve decided you are not ready to go by yourself yet. It’s time to go.” Pick her up and go. She will most likely throw a tantrum. Stay calm and show empathy, letting her know you can tell she’s feeling frustrated. Keep moving towards getting home, getting her in her seat and driving home. Once you have gotten home and she has calmed down, revisit the deal you made. Let her know it’s not the end of dance but that you need her to be able to go on her own and that you will try again in a few months.
With separation anxiety you want to make sure to support her feelings, be OK with her feeling insecure. Let her be with you, but you get to decide the terms. She can be with you either by you going into the room at dance class with her and staying or by staying at home.
I’m also guessing you may be feeling a little singled out yourself when the other girls go to class and your daughter gives you a hard time. Here’s my thought on that, make your decision and be confident with it. Know you are doing the right thing to support your daughter through this time, whether you choose option 1 or option 2. Either of those will support her development AND your relationship with her long term. These are the most important things. Lastly, I would pretty much bet EVERY mom there has dealt with this issue at one time or another! Next week, it may be one of them!
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching our class on Separation Anxiety. There is a lot of great background information that helps you understand it a lot better, as well as things to do to minimize it, throughout preschool and early elementary. You will probably find a lot of those ideas helpful, as a child who exhibits separation anxiety has a tendency for re-occurrences up through age 7.