7 Ways to Ease Separation Anxiety in Young Children

Separation anxiety in children happens because of their attachment to parents or other carers. We’ve put together seven ways you can help to ease your little one’s separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety is completely normal, especially in children between six months and three years, but varies massively between children. Some babies begin to feel these emotions shortly after they are born and some a while later.

Helping a child overcome separation anxiety is a similar process to helping a baby, although there are extra things to bear in mind given the age of your child. While a baby cannot make their emotions known in a specific way, toddlers and preschoolers can be much more vocal about being left for a while.

Practise Short Separations – Trying something new in small doses is a technique adults use, so it makes sense that it could help your child feel more at ease. If they are starting/returning to somewhere busy and loud like nursery or school, it might be hard to replicate this at home. However, leaving them with a family member for half an hour while you pop to the shops can familiarise them with the separation itself.

Do Say Goodbye – It might seem easier for you to sneak away from your child, especially if they are tearful when you leave. However, this can be more distressing as they won’t know if you’ve definitely gone and may even try to look for you. Say goodbye and tell them you’ll be back later to pick them up.

Have a Quick Goodbye Ritual – This could be a hug and a comforting phrase, a secret handshake or a verbal exchange where you always say the same thing to each other. The key part is making it short and memorable, so it acts as a cue to your child that you’re about to leave. After a few times of leaving your child at nursery or school, and coming back again, this ritual will help reassure them that you will indeed return.

Talk About Plans for Later – When you’re on your way to drop your child off, chat on the journey about what you’ll do together when you come back to pick them up. (This doesn’t mean you have to bribe them with treats for later!) Simply chat about going to the park afterwards, watching a particular programme, or what you’re making for dinner – then follow through with those plans. This gives your child something to look forward to and helps reinforce your return.

Leave Something Comforting with Your Child – This might be a favourite soft toy or comforting blanket that your child likes. Having something familiar with them can help a child feel more at home in an unfamiliar place. Some nurseries and schools don’t allow toys to be brought in from outside. In this case, the item could be a favourite pencil case, or even a smaller toy that can be fashioned into a backpack charm. Be sure to check your child’s nursery/school guidelines related to personal items and be aware of choking hazards for very young children.

Positively Encourage Your Child – When your child has been brave while being away from you, support their self-esteem with positive language and praise. Conversely, avoid talking negatively about their difficulties with separation, either directly to them or in front of them.

Read Books About Parting – Storytime is a great opportunity to help your child feel more confident. Sometimes books say it better than we can, and the characters and rhyming mantras of children’s books can give your child something to remember when they start to feel anxious. Titles to read with your little one include:

  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
  • Bye-Bye Time by Elizabeth Verdick
  • The Invisible String by Patrice Karst