6 Steps to Deal with Separation Anxiety



Thanks to a participant in an ongoing Parenting class for submitting the following question:

“Everyday when I drop my 3 yr.old daughter off at daycare, she screams, cries, clings to me and is experiencing separation anxiety. What can I do to make drop off easier for both of us?”

As a Montessori teacher for many years I experienced this situation from the “other side.” Separation is a two way street meaning that parents sometimes also experience the anxiety that comes with letting go of their child. For the most part these situations resolve themselves over time as the child and parent both grow accustomed to the new routine and the caregivers involved. The good news  is the child’s response is showing that the bond between parent and child is strong but the question still remains, how to make the drop off easier as the transition is occurring and the new bond with the caregiver is not completely formed. Consider these ideas.

Ask the caregiver or teacher how long it takes for your child to settle down and become interested in other children and activities. In the many cases I experienced, the child would fuss for five minutes and then get engaged in exploring and interacting with the other children. When I told this to the parent they were often surprised and relieved. If your child is fussing for a longer period it might be helpful to talk to the caregiver about how she likes to be soothed or activities that she enjoys at home that she might do at the daycare. The familiarity will be a comfort.

Don’t give into crying by lingering and openly worrying. Recognize your child’s distress but then plan to make a quick exit. Saying ” I know it makes you sad when we say good-bye but you know I always come back to get you. Have fun today!”

Develop a Good-bye ritual. It might be a warm and full hug while you say, “I love you to the moon and back. I think you are going to have lots of fun today!”

Be on time for pick up.  If you can even be a little early so your child is not the last one picked up it will make the return easier. Always call if you will be late and ask that the message that you are on your way is relayed to your child.

Maintain communication with the caregiver. Establish a working partnership with whoever is caring for your child. You want your child to feel safe and you want to believe that her needs are met. The more comfortable you are in talking to the caregivers, the more assurance you will get and better you can remain positive at drop off. Ask about her favorite activities and other children she likes to play with. This helps you to feel connected and allows you to talk about her actual experiences when away from you. Talking about it with you  will enable her to integrate the new situation more easily.

Practice separation. On the weekend when daycare is not going to happen suggest that you play a game to practice saying good-bye. Use a stuffed animal or favorite doll. It may be easier for you to start demonstrating the game by approaching your child with the toy and saying ” Teddy is ready to come to daycare Ms. ____. Teddy I’m going to give you a great big hug now and say good-bye.” Then hand the toy to your child and after the hug and wave, walking away. Next, switch roles. Say “Now I get to be Ms. _______ and you get to drop Teddy off.” Go through the practice until your child wishes to stop the game.  Practicing situations that are stressful helps her to process it differently. It’s pretend so not actually happening and she can participate and feel successful about it.

Believe your child is strong and can cope. Best wishes!


About The Author

Lois Olson

Founder of The Montessori Children's House Inc. Laramie, Wyoming Montessori Primary Certification 1973
Systematic Training for Effective Parenting facilitator certification
Thirty eight years of experience working with children ages 3-6
Twenty five years facilitating parenting groups
Ten years facilitating teacher training
B.A In Psychology