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Tips for Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety

Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety

As parents, we all know the feeling - trying to drop off your child at preschool or with a babysitter only for their lips to quiver and the tears to start flowing. This is what happens when separation anxiety strikes! It's not easy watching your little one struggle through this, but there are ways you can help them cope.

As parents, we often face challenges that test our patience and resilience.​​ One challenge can be separation anxiety in toddler-aged children. While this phase may seem daunting, there are ways to help your child through it with ease. In this article, we will explore the signs of separation fears along with effective coping mechanisms for easing distress levels while also highlighting when professional support should be sought out. With sensitivity towards their needs combined with appropriate strategies tailored specifically towards them, children can overcome these obstacles.

What is the definition of separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is characterised by intense unease and hesitation when parting from parents or primary carers. This typically arises between six and eighteen months of age as infants develop an attachment with their carer while recognising them as distinct individuals. Common triggers for separation include:

  • When they first start at childcare, nursery or preschool

  • When you leave your child with a babysitter

  • When they’re sleeping away from home 

  • When parents or carers leave for work 

Mild separation anxiety is a common occurrence during the first few years of life. However, if it persists and interferes with daily activities, it could indicate something more serious, such as separation anxiety disorder.

Tips for Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety in Children - What to Look For

Parents can identify separation anxiety by recognising both behavioural and physical symptoms. Common manifestations for children with separation anxiety include:

Behavioural Signs of Separation Anxiety:

When parting ways with your child, they may express their emotions through crying, pleading, tantrums, or clinginess. These behaviours are common among children and should be addressed lovingly to help them cope with separation anxiety.

Difficulty with transitions

Following you around the house

Happy when in their daily routine but unsettled when out of routine

Physical Signs of Separation Anxiety:

Headaches and stomach pain before separation

Loss of appetite and nausea

Crying, tantrums, and clinging to you when leaving

Fatigue and difficulty sleeping are common when separated from parents. This can be a challenging experience for both children and their carers.

For younger toddlers, leaving may trigger a screaming meltdown, while primary school age children and older might complain of mysterious illnesses before heading off to class. These behaviours are often indicative of a fear of separation from loved ones or familiar surroundings. Parents and carers alike can recognise these signs early on so they can provide the necessary support and guidance during this challenging time in their child's life.

Helping a Child with Separation Anxiety

If your child experiences ongoing and intense separation anxiety, there are several effective strategies you can implement to help them overcome their fears. Here are some tips:

Boost Their Confidence

Separation anxiety can sometimes be rooted in a lack of confidence when it comes to being apart from your parents. Encourage your child’s independence and self-reliance by providing opportunities for them to build their skills without constant supervision or support. Separation anxiety can come and go over periods of time, and at times you may think you have cracked it, and then it comes back again. Try not to worry too much about it, as that can make it worse if children with separation anxiety often pick up on you being anxious. 

To alleviate anxiety, it is important to reassure your loved one that you love them and will return. Clarity is key in these situations, as uncertainty can exacerbate feelings of unease. Take the time to communicate this message clearly so they feel secure knowing their safety net remains intact.

Try incorporating brief errands, followed by a reward, into your routine to get ready for longer separations. This can help build confidence and trust between you and your child.

To create a sense of stability and security for your child, establish consistent goodbye routines and normal activities that they can rely on.

Having a good bedtime routine will help in other ways. Having enough sleep will help your child cope better when they are anxious. All of this will help them feel more confident when you leave them.

To reinforce their capability, successful separations should be praised. This will help them feel confident and capable in their future endeavours.

Reduce Their Anxiety

Preparation and transitional objects can help alleviate separation anxiety.

It's important to avoid prolonged departures until their anxiety subsides. This will help them feel more comfortable and secure in your absence.

Allowing children to carry a comfort item like their favourite stuffed animal can provide them with emotional support during difficult times. This simple act of kindness can make all the difference in helping kids feel secure and loved.

To make leaving easier for your child, try incorporating distractions such as songs, games, or books. This can help ease their anxiety and provide a sense of comfort during transitions.

If they don’t currently do any physical activity, find them something they enjoy and can start doing regularly. Physical activity and exercise will help to reduce any type of anxiety as well as improve their sleep.

Get them out in the fresh air and with nature. This has proven to reduce stress and anxiety levels and will take their mind off things they could be worried about.

Remain composed - they can thrive on your unease, and however young, they will quickly pick up on it.

Ask For Help

Don't let separation anxiety overwhelm you. Seeking support can make all the difference in managing this difficult experience.

Consulting with teachers and carers and agreeing on a plan can help alleviate the stress of drop-offs.

Consulting with a paediatrician or child psychologist can provide valuable advice. Don't hesitate to seek their expertise if it is ongoing and becoming stressful and difficult.

Remember that you will always have difficult periods, and it will get better.

Therapy can be an effective tool for addressing childhood trauma. Consider exploring options like play therapy or CBT as potential avenues of support and healing, and this is something you could explore if your child is older.

As your child grows older and more confident through gradual separation from you, they will naturally become less anxious. However, if this issue persists or worsens, don't hesitate to seek professional guidance for their and your well-being. Remember that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but help for you, your child, and your family.

Separation Anxiety Disorder - What You Need To Know

While brief periods of separation anxiety are a natural part of childhood development, healthy attachment and strong attachment to parents and carers are quite natural. Excessive or prolonged instances may indicate the presence of an underlying issue - separation anxiety disorder. This diagnosis is given when chronic anxiety interferes significantly with daily functioning.

Besides the usual symptoms, be on guard for:

  • Refusing to attend school

  • Long-term emotional distress

  • Chronic physical symptoms

  • Anxiety lasting over a month or two

To effectively manage a serious anxiety disorder, counselling and therapy are typically necessary. Additionally, parents require support in establishing boundaries while providing reassurance to their children. With professional guidance coupled with family support, separation anxiety disorders can be successfully treated.

Older Children and Separation Anxiety

While separation anxiety is typically most prevalent among toddlers and preschoolers, it can persist into the older school years. School avoidance becomes a major concern during this period, as children may struggle with feelings of unease or fear when leaving their parents' side. Additionally, traumatic experiences like moves, family deaths, or parental separations may exacerbate these symptoms and heighten the distress that affected people are already feeling.

Primary-aged children may exhibit certain age-specific manifestations, such as:

  • School time often coincides with stomachaches and headaches.

  • Difficulty concentrating due to worry

  • Irritability and Acting Out Before Separation

Helping Older Children Cope With Parental Separation

Older children may require additional support during this time and experience different levels of separation anxiety. Encourage problem-solving coping mechanisms such as deep breathing and identifying anxious thoughts while also maintaining a consistent school routine with familiar transitions. Talk through any worries with your child to provide reassurance and set expectations around attendance. This approach can help them navigate their emotions more effectively.

When it comes to managing anxiety in children, it's essential not to accommodate avoidance. Permitting them to skip school or other activities can reinforce their fears and make things worse over time. Instead, be compassionate yet firm as you help your child work through these challenges. With patience, positive reinforcement, and support, they can overcome any obstacle that comes their way.

Talk to their school and ask what help and support they can give you and your child at this time.

Separation Anxiety Conclusion

As a parent, dealing with separation anxiety in your child can be challenging and emotionally draining, but it is quite normal and a natural and common stage of development in younger children. However, it is important to remember that this phase typically passes as children grow older. By providing consistent validation, patience, distraction, praise, and preparation, along with professional help when necessary - parents can effectively navigate through these tough times together with their children. Soon enough, they'll become independent learners who are ready for school while leaving behind any fears of being apart from loved ones! Remember: consistency will pay off.


What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a normal part of a child's development where they feel anxious when separated from their carer or loved ones.

How can I help my child deal with separation anxiety?

There are several ways you can help your child cope with separation anxiety. One effective strategy is gradually increasing separation times to help them adjust. You can also create a consistent and predictable routine, provide reassurance, and give them a transitional object, letting them know where you’re going and that you'll be back.

What are the symptoms of separation anxiety?

Common symptoms of separation anxiety in children include excessive worrying about being separated from loved ones, clinginess, fear of being alone, nightmares, and physical symptoms such as stomachaches or headaches, crying, tantrums and clinging on to their loved ones.

How can I ease my child's separation anxiety when leaving them at daycare?

To ease your child's separation anxiety, it can be helpful to establish a routine, introduce them to the carer beforehand, give them a special object from home, and provide reassurance that you'll be back to pick them up.

What should I do if my child becomes overly upset when I leave?

If your child becomes overly upset when you leave, staying calm and reassuring is important. Provide a quick goodbye, and let the carer know about any strategies that have worked in the past to help ease your child's anxiety.

Can separation anxiety occur in babies and toddlers?

Yes, separation anxiety can occur in babies as young as 6 to 8 months old. It is a normal part of their development as they begin to understand object permanence and realise that their loved ones can leave.

What is separation anxiety disorder in children?

Separation anxiety disorder is a more severe form of separation anxiety that can persist beyond the normal developmental stage. It is characterised by excessive anxiety or distress when separated from loved ones and can interfere with a child's daily activities.

How can you help your child reduce separation anxiety?

To reduce separation anxiety in older kids, you can involve them in the process of making decisions, establish clear and open communication, gradually expose them to separations, and provide consistent support and reassurance. Leave your child or give your child the freedom to make their own decision. 

Is the timing of separation anxiety the same for all children?

No, the timing of separation anxiety can vary from child to child. While most children experience separation anxiety around 1 to 2 years old, others may start to show signs earlier or later.

Can separation anxiety disorder occur in children who attend childcare regularly?

Yes, separation anxiety disorder can occur in children who attend childcare regularly and can happen when they first start or at a later stage.

About The Flowers Day Nursery

The Flowers Day Nursery is an outstanding nursery and preschool located on the outskirts of Swansea. We have a car park for safe and easy drop-off and pick-up and a team of professional, caring, and qualified carers. 

We have years of experience caring for babies from 6 months old through preschool age, and we work with parents to ensure they are happy, stimulated, and cared for in our beautiful setting. We offer flexible childcare options, provide meals and snacks that are freshly prepared onsite, Pampers nappies and have a garden full of toys and different areas for them to explore and learn in.

If you are looking for childcare in Swansea, contact us today at 01792 46 44 45 and we will answer any questions you may have and can arrange for you to come and meet our team and see our nursery.

If your child is showing signs of separation anxiety, please don’t worry; we will work out a plan and work with you to ensure they settle with us quickly and are happy and content with us.

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