5 Effective Strategies to Manage Separation Anxiety in Young Children


separation anxiety in young children

5 Effective Strategies to Manage Separation Anxiety in Young Children

Separation anxiety is a common problem that can affect children of all ages, but it is most commonly seen in toddlers and preschool-aged children.  It can be characterized by a number of symptoms, including clinginess, refusal to go to school or daycare, nightmares, and bedwetting and can lead to a child feeling scared, anxious, or even panicked.  The anxiety that a child might experience can be triggered by a number of different changes in the child’s environment, routine, school life, home life, and social structure, as well as be influenced by a child’s genetic and biological makeup.


Generally when a child is separated from their parents, the worry that can turn into distressing cries for “Mommy” or “Daddy” stem from the child’s belief that “something bad might happen.”  This worry might be that mom or dad might not be safe or that something could happen to them that would cause them not to return.  There is a strong fear of abandonment that comes through in separation anxiety and so it is important to promote trust and reassurance through consistent and reliable behaviors.  Your child might also experience separation anxiety when faced with going to school, being invited to a sleepover, sleeping in their own bed at night, or not wanting to be left alone in a room for a period of time. 

What is Normal?

While separation anxiety is normal in young children, it can be very distressing for both the child and the parents. It is important to pay attention to the way in which your child’s anxiety is impacting their daily functioning- consider how resilient they are after they are separated from the primary caregiver and if they have the ability to contain their emotions over a period of time. Fortunately, there are many effective strategies that can help your child manage separation anxiety. In this blog post, we will discuss five effective strategies that can help your child feel secure and confident when separated from you.

5 Effective Strategies

  1. Understand what might be triggering the increased separation anxiety.  Consider if your family has experienced a recent loss due to the death of a loved one, a teacher leaving the school, a pet dying, a residential move, going to a new school, a change in routine, a parent’s change of schedule that might disrupt certain routines (story time, bedtime rituals, eating dinner together, etc.)
  2. Establish a regular routine and narrate the routine to your child the night before or prior to separation.  For instance, let your child know that when they wake up in the morning, they will use the potty, brush their teeth, pick out their clothes for the day and then get dressed, take their vitamins, get their lunchbox into the car and head to school.  At school, they will bring mommy or daddy to the classroom and hang up their coat, put their lunchbox away and 
  3. Transitional objects.  When starting something new, such as a new classroom or staying with a new person, it is important for your child to attach to something familiar and safe to them as they begin to make this association with the new environment.  If your child has a special toy or stuffed animal, consider talking to their teachers or caregivers about ways you can use the transitional object to help your child become more comfortable in the new space.  This could even be a favorite t-shirt with a favorite character on it that can help the new teacher spark conversation and build positive rapport.
  4. Give your child a goodbye ritual, such as a hug and kiss, wave, or song.  Remember that it is not so much about how inventive the song is, but rather that the song is something that is easy to recall consistently.  Consider the timing of when you will sing the song and make that part of the routine.  Perhaps you are singing the song during the drive to school or as you are walking to the front door or classroom.
  5. Make sure your child knows that you will always come back.  Narrate your child’s day for them, letting them know that after mommy or daddy leaves, they will have breakfast, play with toys, go outside, have lunch, nap, etc. and then after they have had their day of activities, you will be there to pick them up at a certain time.

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