Helping Your Preschooler Start or Return to School After the Pandemic


by Molly W. Blancke


Returning to school can produce anxiety in young children in the best of times, but in the aftermath of a global pandemic, these feelings can be exacerbated. In addition, being home with parents who have been available 24/7 for such an extended period of time can create or exacerbate separation anxiety. How can you prepare your preschooler to face these challenges more confidently?

We often think of separation anxiety occurring for the child but it can occur for parents also.  The most important step is to have honest but simple conversations with your child, letting them know what to expect before beginning school, when a parent won’t be present. Let your child know it is normal to be a little anxious and reluctant to start or return to school.  It should be looked at as a normal step in becoming a ‘big kid’ and therefore, lots of fun.  Remind them of the benefits of playing with friends and enjoying more independence. Make sure you are okay. Kids pick up on the stress of adults. If you are fearful of the return, try your best not to get too upset in front of your little one. Try to stay calm and positive. 

Share with your child all of the steps that are being taken to keep them safe; children often worry that a disaster or difficulty will occur again. Explain in concrete, simple terms why social distancing, possibly wearing masks and other preventive gear, is necessary to keep them safe. Assure them that the teacher will help keep them safe.  Preschoolers haven’t developed coping skills yet and rely on their family and teachers to help them when things go wrong. 

Small children do not grasp the concept of time.  A young child’s worst fear in any separation is that their parents won’t come back for them.  You can help dispel this fear by hugging them and reminding them each day when you leave that you will be back for them after school.  Even though you may be very busy while your child is in preschool since it’s easier to accomplish things when they aren’t tagging along, be sure you make pick-up time at the end of each pre-school day a priority.  If other children are all leaving and you are late, your child’s fear at being left there will escalate.  Children don’t understand beginnings and ends of time periods. 

Learn to ask open-ended questions, not just ‘How was school?’ but ‘What did you do today?’, ‘Who did you play with?’, ‘What did you learn?’ Also, realize that any fears you have about leaving your child each day is normal.  It isn’t easy to leave a screaming child, for instance.  Usually, the child calms down and is fine once you leave.  But it may make you feel insecure the whole time you are away. Changes in eating and sleeping habits as well as unexplained aches and pains are common. But if you feel your child has adjustment issues, talk to their teacher.

Preschool is a good time to make friends with other moms who are in your situation. Encourage play with friends together outside of class. Lastly, don’t compare your child and his/her milestones with other children in the group.  Every preschooler matures at different levels.  This urge to compare can be very strong.  If you are truly concerned about developmental lags, talk to your pediatrician.  Letting go can be anxious producing but it can also help your relationship when you are together.  Remember, it usually takes between 4 and 6 weeks for adjustment to occur.  

If you feel you and your child need help adjusting, call LCC at 1-800-317-1173. For safety, all sessions are provided using a secure, HIPAA compliant virtual video and/or audio platform.




Molly Blancke BSW, MPA, is the Executive Director at Lutheran Counseling Center. She holds several advanced degrees in Social Work and has been engaged in the field of mental health since 1991. Mrs. Blancke, who is also an accomplished musician, has been LCC’s full time exec since 2006.