Find Out How Make Preschool Drop Offs And Overall Separation Anxiety Easier For You And Your Child.

If you’ve ever been the parent whose child wouldn’t let go of you at drop off time for school, or worried about how they would do with a sitter while you were gone, then you’ve probably experienced what many experts consider a normal stage in development, known as separation anxiety. Find out ways to make you and your child feel better at drop-off time.
Tracy B. McGinnis

If you’re struggling with how to handle your child’s anxious feelings or wondering if you’ll ever stop feeling guilty for leaving your little one, you’re not alone.  Even celebrities like actress Jennifer Garner go through it! Check out her daughter, pictured right with daddy Ben Affleck picking her up from preschool, holding onto a laminated note with a picture of Jennifer which reads: “Mama will be right back!”

Understand the anxiety
Bonnie Harris, Director of Connective Parenting ( and author of a forthcoming book, Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids you’ll Love to Live With (AdamsMedia, 2008), says kids who have a hard time leaving their parents are “not being a problem – they’re having a problem.”

In other words, parents need to understand why their children are experiencing anxiety and work towards finding a solution rather than giving in to the anxiety.  ”Separation anxiety happens later, (usually around 18 months) when cognitive development allows the child the awareness that mom, or other important adult, is somewhere else and fears she might not be back,” explains Harris. 

When a child experiences this type of anxiety they may cling to their parent or caregiver and not even want to go to a familiar person. Dorothea Hover-Kramer, Ed.D., RN, author of Second Chance at Your  Dream, says separation anxiety is natural in young children, “because the parent becomes the attachment object and the child literally things he is losing part of himself.”

Harris adds that it’s important for parents to understand that this is a normal part of development. “It too will pass, and it’s not something the parent has caused or done wrong.”

Detach from the anxiety
Experts agree that it’s important for parents to be able to detach themselves from their child’s unhappiness and pass confidence on to your child, rather than guilt or fear.  When a child sees their parent/caregiver upset they add these feelings to their own, rather than seeing the situation as normal and feeling safe when the parent leaves.

“Parent guilt is what can get in the way and sometimes prolong the developmental process,” explains Harris.  “The hardest principle for a parent to understand is that it is not the parent's job to make the child happy. When the parent takes on this responsibility, she will either spend her day flooded in guilt or try everything in her power to make him happy and often get trapped in bad habits.” 

In other words, promising your child something or bribing them to avoid getting upset will only teach your child manipulation rather than dealing with what is really upsetting them.

Solutions to deal with anxiety
1. Validation: By connecting with your child and validating their feelings you’re letting them know that this is a normal experience and you understand how they’re feeling.

“You are so sad that mommy had to leave, you wish she could stay with you,” are ways to speak to your child during times of anxiousness says Harris. 

2. Play: Games can help get both parent and child through the tough times.  “Peek-a boo” is about seeing and not seeing the beloved person and is a good game to teach children, ages 2-3, that ‘you’ll return’,” explains Kramer.

“Times for the return may lengthen and gradually the child learns the permanence of the parent relationship or what we call object constancy.”

3. Schedules: Kramer adds that since most parents cannot be home with their children all of the time, it’s important to discuss events in advance and have children involved the planning.

“I suggest parents spend lots of time helping their children to understand a schedule. Two- year-olds can handle straight forward information like 'Mommy goes to work so she can buy the foods you like while you to go Mrs. ___'s for a while and then I will see you at __time.'  Many young children benefit from repetition and the predictability that the parent will do exactly as promised,” explains Kramer.

4. Bonding: Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT, a pediatric occupational therapist and sensory specialist says, “Preventing separation anxiety is best addressed by the parent focusing on forming a solid connection or attachment bond with their infant/toddler/child.” Particularly in the early months (0-7months) a period Rowan says is critical for attachment.

“An optimal situation would be to have one primary parent at home for the infant during this period to build and strengthen the attachment bond,” says Rowan. “Parents need to work hard to prepare a proper foundation for eventual development. Movement, touch and connection are three critical factors for healthy physical and mental development of the child, and create the foundation.”

Rowan also encourages parents to spend more time with their children instead of disconnecting with them by using technology in excess, such as TV, videogames, cell phones, and the Internet.

Additional resources
Take an active role in learning more about anxiety and what you’re child may be going through.  Keep an open line of communication at home, school, and with any caregivers that play an important role in your child’s development. Connecting with other parents who have gone through similar experiences is also a helpful way to relieve the anxiety you as a parent may be having as well as gain helpful tips and advice from parents who have been through it. Get connected now through our Pregnancy and Baby message boards!

Read More:

recommended for you