Coping with Separation Anxiety


At TotLot Licensed Childcare, we recognize that entering into a new child care arrangement can be an emotional experience, for both parents and children.  For this reason, we help facilitate this transition.  Careful planning, and the knowledge that some separation anxiety (and, possibly, tears) is normal, can make the transition from parent to Provider as pleasant as possible.  Our Child Care Advisor will visit your Provider’s home at least twice, during the first 2 to 3 weeks of your child’s care, to ensure that your child and Provider are adjusting well.


How quickly the child adapts depends on a number of factors, including:


  • the child's age and stage of development;
  • the child's past experiences in the care of others;
  • the skills of the new Provider and appropriateness of the new setting;
  • the adults' ability to prepare themselves, and the child, for the separation.

Visit the new setting with your child
Show children where they will be eating, sleeping, playing, and introduce the new Provider.  Familiarity will make the actual separation easier.  Preschoolers may enjoy having a book read to them about going to child care.

Transition Period
In order to make the adjustment into care easier for your child, for you, and for the Provider, a gradual entry is recommended.  Our Child Care Advisors can offer suggestions based on your child's needs.

Build trust
Let your child see you and the Provider building a friendly relationship.  Include the three of you in a brief conversation or play activity.  Children often use their parents as a "bridge" for developing a relationship of trust with a new adult.

Prepare the night before
An unhurried, pleasant start to the day is crucial to successful separations.  If the child is old enough, involve her in the selection and lying out of clothes.  For very young children, a choice between two items (e.g. white or blue socks) is enough.

Something from home
Young children often use an object from home (such as a favourite teddy or blanket) to comfort themselves.  Other children prefer to put a family photo or parent's familiar scarf or glove in their pocket or backpack.  Eventually, the need for these "cozies", or transition objects, diminishes.

On the way, the first day
Have a calm, positive attitude.  Babies and toddlers are, especially, sensitive to your moods and are quick to pick up any tension in your voice, face, or mannerisms.  Sing a favourite song or talk about what the child or you will be doing today.  A specific detail ("I will be taking the elevator upstairs to talk to the boss.") is far more interesting than vague comments ("I will be working at the office all day.").  In terms the child will understand, explain when and where you will be picking him up ("After lunch and sleep, I will come.  You will probably be playing outside, then.  I will know where to find you.")  A common fear is that you will not return or that you will not find each other.


Develop a "goodbye" ritual
Rituals are reassuring, especially, during stressful times.  Plan a special way to say goodbye, such as a wave through the window or a lipstick kiss stamped on the back of the child's hand.  You might ask your older child, "How shall we say goodbye?  A kiss or a hug?  One hug or two?"  Giving them choices in little matters helps them feel that they have some control over what is happening.


Take time to say goodbye
Leave your child with a positive picture of what you will do together at the end of the day ("Save a big hug for me when I pick you up!  Then we'll get your brother at school.").  Regardless of how tempting it may seem, never sneak out while the child is distracted.  This destroys trust and will encourage the child to cling more on future occasions.

Avoid repeated goodbyes
Once you say "I'm leaving now." and go through the established goodbye ritual, then go.  Stalling can make the child more fearful and clingy.

Accept and listen to negative feelings
If you or your child are feeling upset about the separation, reassure yourself that you have taken all the required steps to place your child in a safe, nurturing, and stimulating setting.  Telling children that they are too big to cry or that they are making a fuss over "nothing" only aggravates their fears and fails to help them understand their true feelings.  Saying, "I know you are feeling sad.  I will miss you too." is more helpful.

Accept the fact that a temporary period of adjustment and some feelings of parental guilt or worry are normal.  If it would help, arrange for you and your Provider to communicate by phone during the day to see how things are going. Stress from separations and adjusting to new situations can be a real strain for parents and their little ones, however, with careful planning, the adjustment period can be brief.


Adapted from Canadian Childcare Federation, Resource Sheet #41