How to help with separation anxiety?

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Sometimes mornings can be tough. When parents drop off the children at daycare everything is not always that quick and simple. Saying goodbye can make children feel sad and upset. Tears are falling and the child is clinging to the caregiver's leg - how to get out of this situation without more distress and panic??

Here are some tips on how to manage separation anxiety and how educators can help children feel safer and more secure.

What is separation anxiety?

Many children experience separation anxiety as it is a normal part of child development. Separation anxiety is a sign of a meaningful attachment.

  • Infants

Separation anxiety develops after a child gains an understanding of object permanence. Once an infant realizes the parent is gone, she might get restless. Most infants develop separation anxiety around 9 months of age. The separations might feel worse if the infant is hungry, tired, or otherwise not feeling well.

  • Toddlers

Some toddlers might not have separation anxiety during infancy but start demonstrating it around 18 months of age. Again, separations are more difficult if children are hungry, tired, or ill. As toddlers become more independent they can also act more dramatic during the separations.

  • Preschoolers

By the time children are 3 years of age, some can still have separation anxiety. It is the key to being consistent with the morning routine and sticking to the original plan. At this age, children understand much more, so it is a good idea to explain for example when the parent is coming back to pick the child up.


Get to know each other

The better the educator knows the child, the easier it is to start daycare. If possible, ask the family to come and visit the daycare before the start date. The child can come to play outdoors together with the educators and children, take a look at his new class, meet the educators, and so on.

Caregivers should fill out a form (Child Resume template) with all important information about the child. Also, the more parents tell, the better. What is the child's favorite game, color, toy, food, or sport..? When the child gets a feeling that the educator is interested in him, he trusts the daycare professionals more and makes the separations with parents easier.

Eventhough children have many peers and friends in daycare, only mature, caring adult attachments can deliver a secure, safe connection that a young child needs.

- Deborah MacNamara


Let children show their emotions

It is important to let children express their feelings. If a child is crying and sad that their parent is leaving, hold the child on your lap and "collect his tears". It is only natural that children cry when they feel upset.

Educators should not push children to be "big" or "strong" and "stop that silly sobbing" - but on the contrary. It is good that the child is expressing his feelings, it supports his mental health too. When a child is revealing his feelings and cries after his caregiver, educators can support the child and earn his trust by being there during that hard moment.

Feeling sad and crying is actually one of the most natural things for a child when faced with the things they can’t change or hold onto. Telling a child not to worry about it or not to cry when they are missing further diminishes their feelings and sense that a care provider can take care of them.

- Deborah MacNamara


Tips to help yearning at the daycare

In case a child is very stressed and it is difficult for her to wait for the parent to come to pick her up, there are some ways how to help the day go by more smoothly.

  • Visual timetable

Make a visual timetable of the daycare's routines. Have pictures of each activity, for example, breakfast, circle time, outdoor play, lunch, naptime, playtime, tidy-up time, snack time, and home. You can put all these pictures in a row on the wall and then turn them another way around one by one when each activity has finished. This way it is easier for the child to stay on track of what still is happening before she gets picked up.

Look for visual timetables for example from Twinkl.

  • Soft toy or another special item

If the child has a special soft toy, she could have that with her in the daycare when it is a tough day. Also, some other items might help the separation anxiety like the parent's scarf.

  • In my heart

You could ask the parent to draw a small heart on her child's palm. Whenever the child feels sad and misses their parent, she can look at her little heart and remember that her parents love her and come to pick her up at the end of the day!

  • Family photo wall

Each family could bring a family photo and you can make a photo wall for the daycare! Then whenever a child is missing their parents, you can take a look at the family photo together.

  • Send a message

If a child is very upset, you could send a message to the parent together and write "I miss you" or whatever the child would like to write. A message is good in any case, any parent loves to see and hear how their child is doing at the daycare!

Praise + support

Give children undivided attention always when possible and be worth their trust. When children feel and believe that their needs are taken care of in the daycare, they can calm down and they have nothing to worry about even when the parents are not present.

It is also important for educators to support, convey and praise children in all they do! When children learn new things (for example to put socks on) they trust themselves more and become more independent and self-confident. This supports separation anxiety in a way that children feel more confident to function on their own.

See you later, alligator!

When a parent is saying goodbye to the child, it might be a good idea to say "See you!" instead of "Goodbye". In this way, the child knows that the parent is coming back and they will surely see each other soon again.

The parent and the child can discuss what they are going to do after daycare or what is going to be for dinner at home tonight. Anything that gives the child an idea of upcoming events with his parent might make him feel better and look forward to that.

When a parent is leaving, tell them to smile, tell the child "See you later!" and not prolong the leaving process for any reason. Maintaining the same simple routine will help the child to get used to drop-offs and will reassure them that the parent will always come back at the end of the day.


Usually, separation anxiety is worst at the moment when the parent leaves, but then the child calms down and usually finds something interesting to play with. When the crying and screaming have stopped, make sure to inform the parents - it will make them feel more serene for sure. Even the littlest message "Everything is fine now." means a lot to the parents and gives a good impression of you as an educator and the daycare. If you can attach a photo of the child to go with that text, it is just w o n d e r f u l!



NEUFELD INSTITUTE: Separation anxiety - when saying goodbye is hard.
UNICEF: How to manage your child's separation anxiety?
HEALTHY CHILDREN: How to ease your child's separation anxiety?