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Stephanie Marchment
Childcare Owner

How to Ease Child Care Separation Anxiety

December 18, 2020

Every year in September my center would get all hands on deck and gear up for our 2’s class. For many of the 2’s this would be the first time they were going to be left at a child care centre by their parents. This was always an emotional roller coaster (for parents and kids) until the children got used to the facility and bonded with the staffing team. As a Director, to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite time of the year. 

As an educator I saw the problems, knew the facts, and had the solutions, but what I didn’t realize is that sometimes the heart of a parent just wasn’t in it. Now that I have a toddler of my own, I have begun to see separation anxiety in a whole new light. 

My 3 year old isn’t in preschool full time yet, but we’ve begun to leave her with others including an in-home nanny who helps out part-time. I’ll be honest, some weeks are good and some are not so good. It seems like throughout the last year we have gone in and out of different phases of separation anxiety. 

Today I am going to share with you my personal experience on how to prepare your little one for a childcare or preschool setting. By taking a few small steps I believe you can eliminate your child’s reaction to separating. Then you just need to work on your own anxiety...

Introduce them to the space

Getting your child familiarized with the child care space ahead of time is huge. Take them to the school, child care facility or caregivers home and spend time there together before you bring them there to stay alone. This will help them get to know the space and allow them to begin the adaptation process. 

Familiarize them with the caregiver

As much as you can, take time to familiarize them with the caregiver as well. Stopping by the school to say hi for a meet and greet ahead of time can help limit the anxiety. The more experience the child has with the person ahead of time the better.

Practice leaving them for small chunks of time

A great way to get a child used to being left without mom or dad is to leave them for a short time with someone they know very well. Think of this as a small step in the process. Maybe a close friend, neighbor or family member can help with this. A huge part of the anxiety from separation comes from the fact that they’re used to being with you, someone they love and trust. Starting them off with someone familiar can really help them adapt to being without you and gain trust in another caregiver.

Set a time limit to stay

When the big day comes around and you are ready to drop off your child, setting a limit to how long you will stay in the room can really help. Sometimes us parents make the transition harder than it needs to be by lingering around. The sooner we leave the room and let the caregivers take over the better, even if they aren’t totally calm and comfortable yet. Most of the time a child will adapt to the caregiver and space shortly after you leave. 

When it’s not working, focus on smaller chunks

Sometimes children have a very hard time and do not adapt well. Normally this is due to not following the steps above, but sometimes children just don't adapt for one reason or another, whether it’s a particular personality, situation or something else. When this is the case, practice separation in small chunks of time, increasing length of separation as you go. For example you could leave the child for 20 mins one day and 30 the next. The idea is that although they couldn’t take the separation at the start, they will gradually get used to being left for short periods of time and adapt to longer periods when they find that they are safe during separation and that their parents always come back to get them. 

Remember, sometimes they just aren’t ready

Be prepared to give them some grace if they just aren’t ready. We have had parents repeatedly try to leave their 2 year olds and it just doesn’t work for one reason or another. In this situation we suggest giving the child a month or two and then try again, following the steps above as necessary. If you can, giving the child time can be a huge benefit. This might mean that you try to start the process before you actually need to, especially if you know your little one has a character which might be extra resistant to separation.

Final Notes

Separating from your child is never easy for the parent or the child, but it is an important step in your child's development. As your child grows up and becomes more independent you will notice they will naturally protest less and less when you leave. 

If you are the caregiver, please have patience, both with the child and the parents! Separation anxiety is a real thing and can be very difficult to deal with. One thing I always do is encourage the parents to limit their time waiting around after drop off and remind them that their child will settle sooner if they leave, and if they don’t you will call!

By following consistent routines and interacting with trustworthy caregivers while following these steps, most children get over separation anxiety in no time and begin to thrive in their new environment, making friends and learning exciting new things along the way. 

Whether you are struggling with separation anxiety as a caregiver or parent I hope you find these 6 tips helpful. Check out the sandbox blog for all the latest childcare tips on topics like these!

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