Help for Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

by Lisa Henderson

 

Does your child cry when you drop them off at daycare? Do they cling to your legs and whine? Do they clutch your shoulders when you try to put them down? Are you going crazy with guilt? Here’s help for you! Read through these common questions about separation anxiety.

MY TWO YEAR OLD CRIES AT DAYCARE BEFORE WE EVEN GET OUT OF THE CAR.
WHAT CAN I DO? Don’t carry your child into the daycare. Have your child walk to the door, knock on the door, and walk in on their own. This will take some training and is best done with children over 18 months old. If your child cries and whines to be held, tell him, “You are a big boy now and you can walk.” Take your child gently but firmly by the hand and lead him to the door. Do not give in and pick him up. You must be consistent.

SHOULD I STAY FOR A WHILE AT DROP OFF TIME TO MAKE SURE MY CHILD IS COMFORTABLE?
Make your drop off time quick and pleasant. Don’t prolong your stay, as this shows the child you are reluctant to leave her there. If you are uncomfortable about leaving your child there, she will be able to read that in your actions.

SHOULD I SNEAK OUT WHEN MY CHILD ISN’T LOOKING?
NO! This will increase a child’s fear of separation. Give him a quick hug and a kiss and say goodbye. Do not pick up your child! The transition will be harder if you have to pull your child off your body.

WHAT SHOULD I SAY TO MY CHILD AT DROP OFF TIME?
Say to her, in a happy voice, “Mom is going to work now. I will be back later when I’m done. You have lots of fun things to do today too!” By telling your child you’ll be back, this assures them you are not abandoning them.

WHAT ELSE CAN I DO TO HELP THE TRANSITION?
You can bring a reminder of home, such as a family photo or special stuffed animal that the child can keep in their cubbie. They can go and get it out when they are feeling lonely. Another thing to do is give your child a special job, for example, allow them to hold your sunglasses for the day, saying that you will be back to get them for the drive home.

WILL MY CHILD CRY ALL DAY?
Don’t worry! Most children are done crying by the time you are even out of the driveway. Your childcare provider will certainly let you know if your child cried all day. You can even make a call sometime during the morning, just to ease your fears with the happy sounds in the background. Providers suggest that you not do this daily; once or twice during a child’s first week of separation anxiety is normally acceptable. Trust your provider. She’s been through this dozens of times and knows what to do with your child.

HOW LONG DOES SEPARATION ANXIETY LAST?
Some children never cry at drop off. Others will cry each day at drop off for months. The length of time depends on how the parents handle it. Parents who are confident and positive at drop off will present this image to their child, who will learn to trust that his parents will return. If your child is happy and content when you pick him up in the afternoon, then he is probably happy throughout most of the day.

SHOULD I WORRY THAT MY CHILD IS BEING ABUSED?
Parents should always be aware of their child’s daycare environment. Check your daycare provider’s references before placing your child in her care. Visit her home and see how she treats the children in her care. Here are some other tips.

TIP – If you have concerns about your daycare, drop in to pick up your child earlier in the day once in a while. Are all the kids generally happy? Are they playing and busy?
TIP – Listen to the way the provider speaks to the children. Is her voice respectful and kind to all the children?
TIP – See how the provider interacts with the children. Do the children respond positively to her? Are the children willing to be close to the provider and offer hugs freely to the provider?

If you see positive things in your child’s daycare, chances are you can head off to work knowing your child will be just fine. Separation anxiety is normal in young children. But it can be difficult to head off to work when your child’s cries are echoing in your head. However, if you follow these steps to making drop off times more relaxed and happy, you and your child will both learn to work through separation anxiety together.


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