a teacher and a small child playing at preschool
October 21, 2022

How to Help Your Child Manage Their Separation Anxiety

Do your children always throw tantrums or cry when you bid them goodbye? Chances are they are experiencing separation anxiety. This is extremely common for children starting school or day care and are away from their parents for the first time. However, while separation anxiety can mean that your child has formed a strong, loving attachment to you, it is also important that they learn to manage their anxiety to develop healthy psychological well-being.

Seeing your child struggle with anxiety can be heartbreaking. Understanding separation anxiety across developmental ages is crucial, and exploring critical solutions can pave the way for your child’s better emotional management and transitions at school. Read on to learn how to help children with separation anxiety.

teacher reading a book to two young children

Separation Anxiety in Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers

As an essential developmental stage, separation anxiety develops when infants become aware of their separation from their parents. It typically occurs before age one and can start as early as six months old, eventually waning around age 3 or 4. The extent to which a toddler experiences separation anxiety also ticks up and down across developmental ages.

Separation Anxiety in Infants

Separation anxiety comes as your infant understands object permanence; your departure tends to trigger their anxiety and fear. Even though object permanence can arise as early as around 4-5 months, most develop more severe separation anxiety at approximately nine months. Especially when your infant is hungry, sleepy, or feeling out of sorts, your leave-taking is much more intractable. Thus, it is best to keep transitions brief and routine.

teacher playing with small children

Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

Most toddlers experience separation anxiety at 15-18 months of age when they are more sensitive to separations while gradually establishing independence. They are likely to throw noisy tantrums and cry non-stop.

Separation Anxiety in Preschoolers

Crying, tantrums and clinginess are typical signs of preschoolers suffering from separation anxiety, which subsides at 3-4 years of age. Separation anxiety disorder occurs when separation anxiety continues throughout early childhood and intensifies to the extent of disrupting daily functioning.

teacher playing with students to help with separation anxiety

Tips on How to Help Children with Separation Anxiety

1. Create a Routine That Combats Separation Anxiety

Abrupt changes often trigger separation anxiety, so one of the best things you can do is create a routine. For example, inform children of your separations in advance to help them understand what is happening and give them a chance to ask questions. In addition, review the new class schedules with preschoolers so they know what to anticipate on their first school day. If you send them to day care, pack their bag the night before so they know everything is in order. Such routines can help them gradually manage their expectations of your absence, relieve their separation anxiety and smooth transitions.

2. Introduce Short Separations and Extend them Gradually

Implement several brief separations before keeping your children apart from you for an extended period. For instance, stay within their sight in a playgroup and leave for a short time, followed by a prompt return. Increase the interval between subsequent separations to combat your infant’s anxiety in a stepwise manner. Meanwhile, each of your returns attaches a significant promise that your children will reunite with you shortly after the separation, alleviating their anxiety and bolstering their sense of security.

Alternatively, consider leaving your child to a trusted relative or friend while you run a quick errand and see how that goes. This will allow your little one to slowly get used to what it is like to be apart.

teacher playing with two small children with separation anxiety

3. Provide a Comfort Object to Your Children

A comfort object such as a soft blanket or your children’s favourite stuffed toy can soothe their anxiousness and make them feel safe during separations. Let them choose a secure object; you can also provide an item representative of you to combat children in your absence by providing familiarity and security. These comfort objects are essential to ease separation anxiety.

4. Bid a Quick, Sweet Goodbye

Saying goodbye is tough — but a quick, cheerful goodbye marks every separation off to a good start. Make sure you put a grin on your face and stay calm and optimistic while reassuring your children that you will return soon. Do not prolong leaving. Keep up this practise to familiarise your children with the drop-offs and reduce their separation anxiety. 

5. Affectionately Console Your Unsettled Child

It is crucial to engage in an open dialogue with your children about their separation anxiety. Encourage them to reveal their feelings and understand what evokes their uneasiness. This will help you learn about separation anxiety and show your kids how much you care by lending an ear and displaying parental affection.

6. Introduce a New Babysitter Beforehand

If you are going to hire a new caregiver, plan several quick get-togethers for the three of you to prevent unwanted temper tantrums and hysterical cries. Children need some time to befriend and get along with strangers. Once they feel comfortable, you can try to leave them alone with the domestic worker, who can be an excellent companion and help manage their separation anxiety. 

teacher reading a book to a young girl

Nurture Independence in Children at Woodland Preschools

Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood, but that does not make it any less difficult for parents to see their children undergo it. Follow the above tips on how to help your children with anxiety. Most importantly, your little ones need tremendous love and care to thrive in a new environment. At Woodland Preschools, our team of passionate teachers strive to create a supportive learning environment to help your children overcome separation anxiety and nurture their independence and their talents. Contact us for more information, and join our free trial classes to meet our friendly teachers!