6 Ways to Ease Your Child's Separation Anxiety

Though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be just as upsetting for you as it is for your child. Mighty Mommy shares six tips for how you can help your child (and yourself) cope with this temporary phase.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #403

Any parent who has faced a dramatic, tear-filled, near death-grip goodbye when leaving a child to go to work or at school knows that it’s absolutely one of the worst feelings.

Even when we realize our child will be just fine after we part ways, say at school or with a babysitter, it still stirs up an unsettling, heart-wrenching feeling to know that our child is so upset about being away from us—regardless of whether it’s for an hour or a full day.6 Ways to Ease Your Child's Separation Anxiety

An article on the Baby Center Medical Advisory Board at BabyCenter.com explains that babies can show signs of separation anxiety as early as 6 or 7 months, but for most babies, it peaks between 10 to 18 months and eases up by 2 years. The authors add that most commonly, separation anxiety strikes when you leave your child to go to work or run an errand.

Though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be just as upsetting for you as it is for your child. Mighty Mommy has survived this uncomfortable scenario 8 times over and shares 6 tips for how you can help your child (and yourself) cope through this temporary phase of growing up.

Tip #1:  Separate Early On

My first baby was adopted at birth, and after six long years of infertility treatments, by the time I finally did become a mom, I wanted to be with our new baby girl 24/7.  Well-intentioned friends and family members were constantly asking us if they could babysit to give us a break so we could go out to dinner or just have a couple of hours to ourselves, but I always politely declined.  I wanted her all to myself!

In hindsight, I probably should’ve let other adults care for her while I did errands or went grocery shopping because when I went back to work after staying home with her for six months, we were in for a rude awakening.  She wanted nothing to do with our new nanny, so every morning when I left for work, the wailing began, and both she and I would be in tears for that first part of our morning.

I learned from this experience so when we had our second child, I introduced him to relatives and friends much sooner. I made a point of setting up time for our babysitter to come to the house and feed and change him while I was elsewhere in our home taking care of other matters. I also made sure that the grandparents had more time alone with our daughter and baby son so they could get used to interacting with adults who had different mannerisms than their father and I did. Our son still had some anxiety separation issues but it was nothing like what we experienced with our daughter.

Tip #2: Develop a Goodbye Ritual

Kids are comforted by structure and rituals with most areas of their lives, so creating a “bye bye” ritual will provide that same sense of security for them because they will become used to this routine when you have to say good-bye.

For example, whenever you have to leave your little guy at daycare or nursery school you can give him a warm hug and a “thumbs up” sign.  If you have the same ritual each time you leave him, he will soon sense that this means it’s going to be OK for him to stay and that you’ll return in a few hours to bring him home again.

Tip #3:  Keep it Short and Sweet

One of the most helpless feelings a parent must tolerate is watching their child fall apart emotionally when they have to leave them with a babysitter or at daycare or school. My 6th child nearly brought me to my knees the year he started nursery school.  He was three-years-old and clung to me like a piece of Velcro. The minute we got in the car to head to school he started whining and telling me he didn’t want to go. I kept it as upbeat and fun as I could during the 20-minute ride to school, but by the time we pulled into the parking lot, the real tears began.

With my two-year-old in tow, I would hold him by his trembling hand and walk him into his classroom at The Gingerbread House nursery school. The first few days he attended I tried to soothe him and tell him I’d be coming back soon for him and that he would have so much fun with his teacher and new friends. This only made him more upset, and in fact, his sad tears turned to angry tears.

His teacher (who had been teaching nursery school for over 25 years) gave me great advice. She said “Keep it short and sweet.” The next day I gently walked him into the classroom, gave him a kiss and told him I loved him and would see him in a couple of hours. Then, I turned around and walked out. That was one of the hardest things I had ever done, and I had five children before him! I wasn’t even home yet when his teacher called me and said he was doing just fine, and that the crying had stopped within minutes. From there on out, I maintained my “short and sweet” exit and within a few weeks he stopped crying altogether.


About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!