How to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Toddlers
The dreaded morning drop-off at daycare. It’s kind of bittersweet. You love the feeling of being wanted and loved by your child, but then you also feel guilty about leaving them with somebody else. As your child is screeching at the top of their lungs while clinging onto your legs, you’re wondering you are doing something wrong. Is your child too attached? Is something wrong at school? Be assured that you’re not doing anything wrong and the school has probably seen their fair share of separation anxiety meltdowns.
Separation anxiety is actually a normal part of childhood development. It gives your child a chance to develop coping skills and a sense of independence as they explore the world. Separation anxiety occurs as children become more aware of the world around them. As mentioned in my post on surprising facts about loveys, your toddler is starting to realize that it’s not just mom and dad in their own little bubble. Not only that, but mom and dad continue to exist even when they are not seen and your child wants you back….now. This new developmental milestone is called object permanence.
The age that separation anxiety peaks is between 9-12 months, but the age can vary greatly. There are some toddlers, like Remy, who go through separation anxiety later, such as between 18-24 months. And even more still, there are some toddlers who never experience it at all (fingers crossed for you!). However, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely dealing with separation anxiety and are looking for answers on how to deal with it. We’ve talked to other parents and daycare providers for those answers. Here are some ways on how to deal with separation anxiety!
Develop a Goodbye Ritual
Develop a short goodbye ritual that is uniquely yours. Whether it be as simple as a kiss on both cheeks followed by a big hug or as complicated as a cute little handshake, do this ritual every single time you and your child say goodbye. And be consistent, even if they are crying. Eventually, your child will come to expect the ritual and know that it means that you will be leaving for a little while.
Remy and I give each other a hug and a kiss before I leave his classroom. At the doorway to his classroom, I turn, give him a big smile, wave, and blow a kiss. This is our goodbye ritual and I do it every single time. Some days he may be crying or clinging on to me, but the ritual stays the same. Which brings us to the next step….
K.I.S.S. – Keep it Short and Sweet
Even if your child is crying, keep the goodbye ritual short and sweet. Then leave definitively. Do not linger! Do not attempt to console them (spoiler alert, they will not be consoled). Do not come back to visit after 5 minutes. Just leave. Your heart may be breaking and you may be holding back tears yourself, but lingering can actually delay the transition process of separation anxiety or make it worse. When your child is crying and you stay or come back, that means their tears are working….and they’ll keep crying every single time to see if it will work that day.
This was my mistake when Remy first started daycare. I would try to console him or play with his friends or toys to entice him. It did not work. In fact, it backfired. It prolonged the crying and even made him cry harder when I did eventually leave.
Separation anxiety is not just for your little one. You may be feeling very anxious with each drop-off complete with heart palpitations. I know I did. But try to keep your emotions in check, which is easier said than done. Your heart is literally breaking. However, your child can sniff out fear and anxiety. They will sense it. If they feel that you’re anxious, they will be even more concerned about being left with a nanny or at school. Be strong, be calm in your goodbye, and be firm in leaving. Be cheerful, of course, but be firm.
Another thing to note is that you chose this nanny and this daycare for a reason. Your little one is in good hands. More often than not, as soon as you leave, your toddler is probably chattering away with his friends, catching up with happened since the last time they saw each other. If you are truly concerned, call the school to check on your toddler. But absolutely under no circumstances, come back earlier than you intended to.
Speak Their Language
As part of your goodbye ritual, you can reassure your child that you will be back. But since toddlers can’t tell time, relate the time of your return with something from their day instead a specific time. For example, you could say, “I will be back after your afternoon snack. Can’t wait to hear what you did today!” or “Dad will pick you up as soon as naptime is over. Have a great day!”. Speaking their language and laying out reassurances this way will allow your child to know when to expect you back and look forward to seeing you.
Keep Your Promise
When you do tell your toddler when to expect you, keep that promise! This will help your little one feel confident that you will return and they will be comforted with that knowledge during the time that you two are apart.
Practice makes perfect and it may help with the transition of separation anxiety to have practice sessions first. If you have family nearby or a trusted babysitter, consider taking a few hours for yourself or go on a well-deserved date night. When it’s time to leave, run through the goodbye ritual and leave. Then enjoy yourself! This allows for more opportunities for your toddler to get used to you leaving and will aid in their development in being a strong and independent individual.
Overall, be assured that having separation anxiety means that your child is normal! It won’t last forever and there may come a day when you miss your toddler clinging to you. In the meantime, I hope these tips help you and your child deal with separation anxiety. What is your goodbye ritual like?
How can you leave that face!