Child Care Center

Surviving separation anxiety

It's 8:30 in the morning and you're dropping your toddler off at daycare for the first time. She's starting to get fussy as she realizes that she has to stay and you are going to go, when you notice a weird sensation in your own stomach too. Children usually aren't the only ones who get a bit stressed during the transition from home to daycare.

Separation anxiety causes a child to become distressed when he or she realizes that a parent is going away. Because children don't yet have a great sense of time, they don't know when - or if - you will be back. Your child doesn't want you to leave, so she'll cling to your leg, wail at the top of her lungs and reject the kindness of the adults who will be taking care of her until you return later to pick her up.

Try the following tips to help your child develop a sense of security and to calm your own nerves at the same time:

  • Practice being apart from each other: You will see that your child can manage without you and it will teach your child that you will always return.
  • Introduce a new caregiver or daycare space ahead of time: The actual first day will be stressful so make sure that not everything is completely new to your child.
  • Don't feel guilty about leaving: You can feel good knowing that your child loves you unconditionally and doesn't want to be away from you, but you need to go to work. Your child will grow to understand this.
  • Don't come back into a room once you have left: This gives your child false expectations and teaches her that crying really does bring you back.
  • Don't try to sneak away while your child isn't looking: While it may be easier for you, it can actually cause more stress in your child, so say a quick, loving goodbye and reassure her that you will see her later.
  • Make a routine: Children work well with rhythm, so develop a pattern of reassuring goodbyes and happy returns. Try a special goodbye like a handshake or silly tickle that you repeat every day to make your child more comfortable.