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Separation Anxiety

The start of school is a milestone that is often awaited with anticipation and joy, but also with crying, uncertainty and resistance, from both children and parents. For some children, the main source of anxiety related to entering school is that they have absolutely no idea what to expect. For parents, some causes of separation anxiety include; worrying if their child will feel abandoned, concerns if their child will be safe and ultimately will they be properly taken care of.

As highlighted in Separation Anxiety in Children; “It's natural for your young child to feel anxious when you say goodbye. Although it can be difficult, separation anxiety is a normal stage of development. With understanding and these coping strategies, separation anxiety can be relieved - and should fade as your child gets older. However, if anxieties intensify or are persistent enough to get in the way of school or other activities, your child may have separation anxiety disorder. While this condition may require professional treatment, there is a lot that you as a parent can do to help ease your child’s fears and make him or her feel safer.” (Robinson, Segal & Smith, 2016)

What you can do:

  • Prepare your child for your absence before leaving them 
  • Listen to and respect your child's feelings 
  • Be reassuring but set limits and stick to them 
  • Offer choices 
  • Stay calm 
  • Praise your child's smallest effort to separate

Crying, tantrums, or clinginess are healthy reactions to separation. Separation anxiety can begin before a child’s first birthday, and may pop up again or last until a child is four years old, but both the intensity level and timing of separation anxiety vary tremendously from child to child. A little worry over leaving mom or dad is normal, even when your child is older. You can ease your child’s separation anxiety by staying patient and consistent, and by gently but firmly setting limits.

Additional Tips

  • Practice separation - Leave your child with a caregiver for brief periods and build on the duration of time being spent apart. 
  • Develop a “goodbye” ritual - Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye hug or kiss. 
  • Keep familiar surroundings when possible and make new surroundings familiar - Have your child bring a familiar object from home.
  • Leave without fanfare - Tell your child you are leaving and that you will return, then go; don’t stall. 
  • Try not to give in - Reassure your child that he or she will be just fine - setting limits will help the adjustment to separation. 

Source: Robinson, L., Segal, J. & Smith, M. (2016). Separation Anxiety in Children
Retrieved January 16, 2017 from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/separation-anxiety-in-children.htm.

Nicole Livingstone, Child Care Consultant ~ Aisling Discoveries Child & Family Centre