7 Tips for How to Handle Separation Anxiety

Tantrums and tears are a common occurrence in early childhood, especially the first time you leave your child at preschool. Despite their excitement, new experiences, places and people can overwhelm children.  Although they usually become comfortable with new routines after a few days, the transition can be difficult for both parent and child.

How to Handle Separation Anxiety Without Losing Your Cool

Trying to drop your child off at preschool when they’re clinging to you, screaming or having an emotional meltdown is very stressful. You might feel guilt, embarrassment, anger or irritation. All these emotions are normal, but it’s important to remain calm.  Expressing anger or sadness can evoke those same emotions in your child.

1) Listen to your Child

Let your child talk about their fears. It’s healthy for them to talk about their feelings, and listening helps validate them. Being an empathetic audience for your child can help them feel calm and safe.

2) Develop a Routine

Rituals can be very comforting to small children. Make saying goodbye a routine so that they feel prepared.  It might be as simple as a hug and telling them what time you’ll be back. This provides an end to the separation that they can look forward to.

3) Offer Choices

Offer your child a choice or some element of control in their activity or interactions. For example, if you’re taking them to preschool, ask them if they want to be walked in or dropped off. This can give them a sense of stability and control.

4) Practice

Practice leaving your child with a friend or family member for short periods of time, to help get them used to being away from you. It’s also beneficial to have a babysitter come to your home so that your child is in a familiar setting.

5) Be Consistent

It’s important to be consistent when leaving your child. If you feel guilty and linger with them, that’s what they’ll expect the next time. Be gentle but firm.  You have to leave, but you’ll be back. After a few days, your child should be familiar with the routine.

6) Provide a Comfort Item

Let your child hold on to an item that brings them comfort when you’re away.  This might be a doll or small toy. The familiarity of the item can make separations easier, and knowing they get to keep something from home can be a great consolation.

7) Encourage Relationships

Encourage your child to make friends with other children, so that separations won’t be so isolating. Also support bonding with teachers and caregivers, who can become a familiar, friendly face when you’re apart. When they’re excited to see and spend time with friends, goodbyes with mom or dad are much easier.

When to Worry

It can be very distressing to see your child cry and panic as you leave, but it’s usually just a normal part of their development. However, if their panic does not subside or if it intensifies, you may want to speak with your child’s pediatrician.  

Encouraging Healthy Separations

The best part of being away from your child is returning to them! Use these reunions as a chance to reinforce the positive aspects of being apart. Ask them about their day, what they did and who they saw. Take time to play with them, and interact with their teachers or caregivers. This will strengthen their confidence and encourage healthy separations in the future.

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