Helping Manage Separation Anxiety in Child Care

November 8, 2022

There are a few issues that tend to be pretty common across the world of child care and child education programs, and one of these is a concept known as separation anxiety. This refers to kids becoming upset or having similar mood issues when they're separated from their parents for a given day of school or child care -- luckily, due to how common it is, it's something that can be identified and remedied with the right approaches. 

At Devlin's Child Development, we're proud to offer several high-quality child care programs for Sandy clients, including preschool, daycare and even after school care services. All of our child care professionals are quite familiar with separation anxiety in children, and we're experienced in helping both kids and their parents deal with this issue when it comes up. Here's a primer on what separation anxiety is and how it's often expressed in children, plus what parents can do to help ease it.

Separation Anxiety Basics and Common Ages

For those who haven't dealt with it before or are unfamiliar with separation anxiety, the concept can be a bit confusing. But the name itself is pretty descriptive and gives you an idea of what it's about.

Separation anxiety typically crops up during times when children are separated from their parents for extended periods of time -- in other words, it's something that often happens as kids start going to school or child care. Children often struggle with the idea of being on their own for several hours, away from the person who they've identified as most comfortable around.

This anxiety can be triggered by several specific feelings, including confusion over where their parents are or uncertainty about whether they'll be safe when they're not around. Separation anxiety may begin as early as infancy in some cases, or show up in children as young as two years old -- and it can last well into the elementary school years.

Common Expressions of Separation Anxiety

For most kids dealing with separation anxiety, there are a few common symptoms that parents and caretakers may notice. These include:

  • Tears when you leave for work or drop your child off at school or day care;
  • Tantrums and other aggressive behavior when you leave for work or drop your child off at school or day care
  • Withdrawing from activities and refusing to participate in them with their peers

As a parent, there are some simple ways you can go about improving your child's response to separation anxiety -- and even ways to address its root causes and help eliminate the issue entirely over time. Our next several sections will go over these.

Prepare for Big Changes in Advance

Anytime you know there's a big change to your child's daily routine coming, such as the start of a new school year or a new daycare program, do your best to prepare them in advance. Talk to them about the change and describe what's going to happen -- this will help alleviate some of their uncertainty surrounding the unknown.

While this may not completely solve a child's anxiety around separation, it will likely help them to cope better when the time comes.

Schedule Visits Before the First Day

If your child is attending a new educational or child care facility for the first time, you may want to choose a couple of days' prior to the start date to do some visits. This will help your child familiarize themselves with their new surroundings and get used to seeing it without actually being there so often.

They will also begin to feel like they belong to a community, which can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness that can trigger separation anxiety.

Create a Goodbye Routine

There are multiple areas of value in creating a goodbye routine, and one of them is helping the child understand that your absence will not be permanent. By setting up an effective routine for leaving and dropping off your child, you can give them something to focus on besides their anxiety.

This might be as simple as having a set goodbye time each day or week that you follow, even if it means that you have to rush away or leave your child in the middle of play. The key is consistency so that they know what to expect.

Stick to the Routine

Once you've found a basic routine that works for your child, it's important to follow established rules and guidelines. When a parent or caretaker becomes inconsistent with their departure times, this can cause more distress than necessary -- leaving in the middle of playtime, rushing out the door at an odd hour without explanation, etc.

The more consistent you are, the less anxiety is likely to be triggered, which is why it's important to follow your given routine.

Always Return When You Say You Will

Nothing will help fuel separation anxiety like a parent or caregiver who consistently breaks promises to return. Whether it's a phone call at the end of the day or an actual visit, make sure that you follow through and do what you say you'll do.

This will give your child some peace of mind and help them to understand that your absence is not permanent -- which can go a long way to helping them eliminate separation anxiety.

For more on how to ease separation anxiety in your child surrounding child care or any other kind of period where parents will be absent, or to learn about any of our preschool, daycare or other child care programs, speak to our staff at Devlin's Child Development today.

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