Toddler with separation anxiety clings to mom.

How to Help Your Child with Separation Anxiety

Have you noticed your child clinging to you more than usual? Or that he becomes extremely upset when saying goodbye? These are examples of separation anxiety, which is very typical among young children.

Children begin to realize they are a separate entity from their parents around their first birthday, and this understanding can also inadvertently create a fear of being left alone or abandoned. Separation anxiety can often occur as children enter preschool, and because little ones do not yet grasp the concept of time, they have a hard time understanding when a parent will return.

Here are a few tips from myself and fellow parents to help you and your child work through this challenging emotional stage:

  • Prepare ahead of time. Have conversations with your child about what your drop-off routine will be like. For example, describe walking into the school, stopping at the door of the classroom and giving a goodbye hug. Remind them that you’ll all be back together at the end of the day! Building this excitement for the pick-up can make the drop-off much easier. –Caroline, Mom of two
  • Read together. Help your child visualize a positive drop-off experience. Try reading The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn and practicing your own ritual.
  • Provide constant reassurance. Comfort your child and remind her that you love her and will come back to get her. Reassure her in advance as well as at the time of drop-off.
  • Leave promptly. You may be tempted to linger during drop-off, but this will only make things worse. Once you’ve said goodbye, depart quickly – even though it may be painful for both of you!
  • Place your child where they feel safe. If your child is young enough to be held, try placing them in the arms of a trusted teacher or care provider. This physical pass-off can help to soothe your child’s anxieties. –Robin, Mom of two

Toddler separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development. The good news is it is often typically resolved by the end of Kindergarten, and as your child adapts and learns how to handle her worries, she will be able to manage these situations and embrace new experiences when you two are apart.

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About the Author
Lynn Louise Wonders

Lynn Louise Wonders, MA, LPC, RPT-S is an early childhood development and parenting expert. She offers private coaching and consultation for parents throughout the U.S. She is a well-known professional in the field of play therapy, providing training, supervision and mentoring to child therapists world-wide having practiced for more than 15 years in schools, child development centers and through her private practice.