Teary Goodbyes: 6 Ways to Manage Separation Anxiety in Childcare

Does your child cry, scream, or become extremely upset every time you say goodbye at childcare? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Your child is going through separation anxiety, and it’s a very common stage of development. It happens to most young children, and there are several strategies you can use to manage it.

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What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is the distress that a child experiences and shows when separating from their primary caregivers. As you may know, this distress is then conveyed through crying, becoming clingy, or throwing tantrums. Separation anxiety can begin when a child reaches six to eight months old, but can happen at any age.

Why does your child go through separation anxiety?

As your child is still so young, they don’t have a separate sense of self, and so they associate you with a part of themselves. When they see you leaving, it’s as though a part of them is leaving too. They’re too young to comprehend the concept of time, so being apart from you for a few minutes might literally feel like forever to them. Separation anxiety also correlates to the process of settling into a new environment – that’s why you may find that it’s most intense when your child is settling into childcare life.

So what can you do?

1. Give reassurance

Have constant, positive conversations the night before childcare, explaining what their day will be like. Keep reassuring them that you’ll be back to pick them up.

2. Speedy drop-offs

Most parents make the understandable mistake of either prolonging their goodbye or sneaking away without saying goodbye at all. Saying goodbye is a must, but it needs to be short, sweet, and a ritual. A good suggestion is to have a special gesture or activity that you consistently do before you leave, such as a “big bear hug” or a special high-five.

3. A piece of home

Let your child bring their favourite toy from home for the first few weeks. This will give them a sense of familiarity and safety.

4. Work with the educators

The educators are the staff members in childcare who your child spends most of their time with, so you need to join forces with them. Build a relationship and talk to them about your concerns regarding separation anxiety, and develop strategies collaboratively.

5. Read about It

For children who are still developing their understanding of different feelings and learning how to communicate them, reading stories about similar situations may help. Here are some of Childcare Near Me’s top picks for children’s books that deal with separation anxiety:

  • Llama Llama Misses Mama by Ann Dewdney

  • I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas

  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.

6. Smile!

We know it’s hard to do this when your child tears up right in front of you, but do your best to adopt a calm and positive attitude. When you appear tense and nervous, your child quickly picks this up, causing them to think that the situation they are about to be left in is negative and unsafe.