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Overcoming Separation Anxiety

Upset Caucasian Toddler Baby Boy Cries T
Little baby boy crying, holding his moth

Strategies that often don't work well:

  • If your child cries, you come back

I'd say to parents:  'Stay all day if you like. I love to have parents see what we do. But once you say you're going... Please go. Regardless of what they do.'

Your child is learning a new skill. So make your language supportive. Avoid mixed messages.

As parents, say something like: 'I know you can do this. And I know (insert name) will look after you.' Then leave.


If they get upset, you're setting up a bad routine if you come back. E.g.: That being:

I scream:

You come back.

Therefore I scream.


You can be unknowingly setting your child up to continue to have separation issues... Big time.

  • Leaving a child without staging separation.


To put it in perspective, how would you feel if your partner all of a sudden said they were going on a two week holiday... And then left. And they've never done anything like that before. Would you be feeling confident in your relationship or would you feel unsettled?


Why would it be any different for your child. Stage separation to build confidence.

  • Leaving a child in a new environment where they haven't been before or haven't met the people


For example: Leaving a child in a short term child minding facility while you attend a class like gym, TAFE, a Uni lecture, etc.


Your child will be so much better off if you take them to the place a couple of times and play with them there, getting to know the staff, etc. You could even show them where you're going to go, so they know where you are.


  • Leaving your child in a new minding situation for too long.


(They need to learn  you'll always come back.)


For example: Being the last one back to day care to pick them up, can be traumatic for a child only recently left. They watch everyone else get picked up, but them. And this can hijack any good work that has been done to date. It can be hard to come back from.

  • Leaving a child, without telling them you're leaving.

And while this may be tempting to do (with a child that screams when you leave them,) it generally only exacerbates the problem, often increasing their anxiety. If you do this, they may even become unsettled generally, as they're waiting for you to bolt.

  • Giving a mixed message.


Saying you're going, and then hanging around. Especially if you say 'I'm really going to miss you.' While it may be true and you will miss them, by saying so at this time, it can upset a child. To make it less traumatic maybe save saying you missed them till when you get back.

  • Giving up when first attempts fail. This can be setting your child up for a pattern of separation anxiety.

If you don't persevere, what your child has learnt is, they can't be away from you.

  • If your child continues to have separation issues you need to work out a plan with the person you're leaving them with, to ensure the handover routine becomes smooth and more predictable for your child. And do it sooner than later.


With  staging separation as suggested over,  separation anxiety is usually short-lived and can be avoided altogether.

Or you may find another care situation that is a better fit for all of you.


This is what I did with my own son after a failed first attempt. And he went from being absolutely miserable, to loving it in one day.

Kids in Preschool

'It's easier to build strong children than repair broken ones.'

Frederick Douglas

If you put in the time to get it right from the beginning, your child will learn they can begin to function well without you. This helps builds their confidence and independence.

The easiest way to manage separation anxiety is to expect it and plan for it:

  • Stage separation by leaving your child with trusted others for increasing amounts of time

  • Make your child familiar with any new child care environment before leaving them

  • Set up a predictable routine, ideally leaving them with the same caregiver or activity

  • Be positive. Trust caregivers to manage  upsets

  • Make sure you're not one of the last parents through the door to collect them

Leaving your child for the 1st time? Or are you returning to work after a long break? These commonsense tips to help overcome separation anxiety, have been designed by a preschool teacher with over 30 years practical experience .

Lesbian Couple with Baby

Strategies that generally work well:

  • Be positive about leaving your child... even if you don't feel it. And make out what you're going to be doing will be unappealing

Say something like 'You'll get to have a lovely time playing with... and I'll be going home and doing the boring old ironing.' And smile and be confident about it. Kids pick up on your anxiety.

  • Talk about the fact you'll be leaving them ahead of time so they know to expect it. And emphasize that you'll be back soon.


Learn what the expected routine for your child's day might be. Depending upon the age of the child you can talk through what they will do, (emphasizing the fun things,) until you'll be back.

  • Set up a predictable routine for both leaving and picking up your child.

I suggest leaving them with the same particular member of staff every time, or with a particular activity they love doing... Or ideally both. Pick a time they're engaged in an activity to say you're leaving and then go. Be positive and confident.

Using similar predictable language can help. Say something like: 'I'll see you this afternoon just after you've had your lunch and had a nice long play in the sand pit. Have a wonderful day. I love you.'

And go. Initially I suggest you don't look back because if you start blowing kisses, they might decide you're more appealing than the playdough, or carer, they were left with.

  • Reassure them you'll be back soon... And initially make sure you're back soon.

Children need to learn you'll be back. And you need to earn their trust here. Increasing the time over weeks works better than just leaving them for eight hours straight.

If you have a partner or grandparent, they may be able to assist with pick ups at the beginning so the initial days at day care are shorter.

Mother with her Baby

Staging Separation and Developing Trust:



Make sure you only leave your child with people you know you can trust.

1. Go into another room, leaving your child for very short periods of time and return. Give them something to do that you know they enjoy. Smile. And always tell them when you're going and you'll be back soon. (I found using large egg timers worked a treat so children knew when the time ran out, you'd be back.)

2. Leave your child with someone they know well and love (like Nan or Pop.) Explain you're leaving. Smile. Explain you'll be back soon. Make sure they have something to do that they will enjoy. Go into the back yard for a few minutes and come back, saying something like... 'See I told you I'd be back soon. What did you do while I was gone?' Bring them a leaf or something from the yard to talk about.

3. Extend the length of time you are away. You could maybe go for a coffee. Again... talk about what you did. I often said I was 'doing the boring old ironing.' That way a child doesn't feel they're missing out on something exciting.

4. Expand on the range of people you leave your child with, (maybe a sister or best friend,) and again make it a short absence. Make sure it's someone your child knows well and that you can trust to handle it, even if your child cries.

5. Continue repeating leaving your child with people you know you can trust to handle any difficulties. For example: Day Care personnel, aunts, good friends, etc and again make the absences relatively short, especially for the first few times you leave them with a new person.

6. Leave them for increasing lengths of time in day care or with family members you trust.

Make it easier for both of you.


What could surprise you is how hard it might be for you to leave your child, especially if they experience separation anxiety.

Initially, I'd ring parents a couple of minutes after they left and their child was already settled and playing happily. Your child minding facility may do the same for you, or text you. Or alternatively if they don't, you could make a short phone call to check how your child is going.

If it makes you feel better, ring for reassurance. Why stress if there's no need to.

And the people who really care for you and your child, won't mind at all. They'd be happier to know you're confident leaving your child with them.

With time, you should both be fine.

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Girl with Flower

​To learn how to help develop cooperative kids check out the links. It could make your life so much easier:

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