Overcoming Separation Anxiety

Strategies that often don't work well:

  • When or if your child cries you come back

I used to say to parents who left children with me was 'Stay all day if you like. I love to have parents see what we do here. But once you say you're going... Please go. Regardless of what they do.

Your child needs to learn a new skill. You are hijacking their efforts if you come back when they act out. By coming back you're setting up a bad routine.


That being: I scream: You come back. Therefore I scream.


This is 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.

  • 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. This can hijack any good work that has been done to date. And 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 levels. 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 instead hanging around, saying things like '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  really set a child up. To make it less traumatic for your child 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 more 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.

'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 function well without you.

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

  1. Staging the separation by leaving your child with trusted others for increasing amounts of time

  2. Making your child familiar with any new child care environment

  3. Setting up a predictable routine, ideally leaving them with the same caregiver or activity

  4. Being positive and trusting the caregivers to manage any upsets

  5. Ensuring you build up the time they are left over time

  6. Making sure you're not one of the last through the door to collect them

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 any of your anxieties.

  • 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.

Using similar predictable language can help. Say something like: 'I'll see you this afternoon just after you've had your lunch and 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 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 are shorter

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?'

3. Extend the length of time you are away. You could maybe go for a coffee.

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 time 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 used to ring the 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.

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

Sleep Routines
How to Get your child to sleep.
Why Natural Consequences?
The Value of Natural Consequences
Boundaries Help Raise Good Kids
Setting Boundaries
Why Be Consistent?
Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Why Spend Postive Time Together?
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Choosing Gratitude Not Entitlement
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