Mother hugging young girl goodbye

How to Help Your Child Deal with Separation Anxiety in Child Care

Most young children experience separation anxiety from time to time. Typically, it occurs when you leave them with a caregiver or if they are separated from you for school, going to a friend’s house, at the doctor’s office, etc. So, how do you deal with separation anxiety in child care?

Most children grow out of this phase as they become more independent and confident about their abilities and emotions; however, if your child is experiencing an unusually difficult time managing their anxiety in when going to a child care center, consider these tips and strategies to help them cope so that everyone involved can remain comfortable and happy during child care drop-offs.

Practice Being Apart

It may seem counterintuitive, but practicing being apart can help your child feel more comfortable when you’re not around. Start by leaving them for short periods, like when you run errands. If they’re old enough, have them stay home with a babysitter while you go out. As they get used to being away from you, increase the time they’re on their own.

At first, they may get upset and cry when you leave. That’s normal and usually means they haven’t yet mastered a healthy way of coping with separation anxiety. However, their reactions will likely change as they become more comfortable being on their own. 

Create a Quick, Positive Goodbye Ritual When Leaving Your Child Care Center

Establishing a quick, positive goodbye ritual can help your child feel more comfortable and confident when leaving you for child care. Plus, it can provide a special moment to connect before you go your separate ways.

Use your goodbye ritual at each drop-off. This is especially important for children who have separation anxiety, as it helps them feel more comfortable each time you leave. Plus, it can help you establish a  routine that your child can look forward to daily.

Be Specific About What Will Happen 

One of the hardest things for a child is not knowing what will happen. This can be especially true when starting child care. It is important to be specific about what your child can expect during the day.

Let them know what activities they will be doing and when you will be back to get them. This will help ease their anxiety and make the transition smoother. When it comes time to leave, give them an extra hug and tell them that you love them before walking out the door. 

Follow A Routine to Avoid Separation Anxiety

A consistent morning routine will help your child know what to expect when they arrive at child care. Get them dressed in play clothes, brush their teeth, and eat breakfast together. Then, say goodbye and give them a big hug and kiss.

Let them know you’ll be back to pick them up later. The ritual of going through this routine each day before heading off to daycare can also teach children about independence. This routine will help ease their anxiety and make the transition easier.

When they’re able to separate from you, show your pride and give praise. Maybe even treat them to a small reward at the end of the day. This can work as an incentive for your child and make transitions easier. If it’s still too difficult, try taking small steps, so they get used to seeing their caregiver before leaving you each day and vice versa when arriving at their care facility each morning.

Provide a Toy or Object of Comfort

Have your child bring a special stuffed animal or other item that comforts them. It will provide a sense of familiarity and comfort when entering a strange environment.

While letting your child bring their favorite item may seem like a no-brainer, if you drop them off at child care and they don’t know anyone, it can be hard for them to feel comfortable. 

The First Day Makes all the Difference in Avoiding Separation Anxiety

Though it’s normal for children to feel some separation anxiety when starting child care, there are things you can do as a parent to help ease the transition of the first day for you and your child. Talk to your child’s caregiver about their routine and what to expect during drop-off and pickup. If possible, visit the child care facility together before your child’s first day.

On the first day of child care, stay for a little while until your child is comfortable, then say goodbye and let them know you’ll be back later. Most importantly, be consistent with your goodbyes and pickups. Children thrive on routine, so the more predictable you can make the process, the easier it will be for everyone involved.

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