8 Smart Ways to Ease Your Toddler's Separation Anxiety
This article was originally featured by What to Expect, a pregnancy and parenting brand helping every parent know what to expect, every step of the way.
Even after you manage to get your child through the morning moves of brushing those tiny teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, finding and putting on (matching) shoes, and buckling up in the car, still one final hurdle remains: saying good-bye to your little one at the preschool or daycare door. That may be the time your cutie cues up the whimpering, clinging, and begging ("Please don't leave me!") — all sure signs of preschool or daycare separation anxiety. While this behavior is totally normal, particularly at fraught moments like school or daycare drop-off, it certainly isn't easy on parents. But thanks to these eight ideas for seamless, sweet good-byes, you can make over your mornings into a fuss-free routine.
Start With a Warm Up
Most kids take a little while to get used to a new situation, so it's no big surprise that day one at a new day care or nursery school incites tears. If possible, simplify the transition by making a before-school visit to meet the teachers and explore the classroom. With Mom or Dad comfortably close at hand, your little one can gather the gumption to explore the new surroundings. Still worried? Brainstorm with the teacher about strategies that might stem separation anxiety flare-ups, like letting your honey wave by the window while you hop in your car.
Make a Mom Memento
To ease the pain of parting, let your little one keep a piece of you with her all day — like a scarf or a hankie that smells of your favorite perfume or an inexpensive pendant from a necklace she's seen you wear. Or give her a piece of her own "good-bye jewelry." Tie a special string bracelet around your wee one's wrist, then kiss it and tell your toddler, "I'm filling this with my love." When she feels stressed from separation anxiety, she can touch or kiss the bracelet to get an instant dollop of Mom love to see her through the day.
Send the Right Signals
How parents say good-bye can determine their toddler or preschooler's reaction. So as tempting as it may be, don't wait for your child to get distracted and then sneak off without a hug and a kiss. For some kids, looking up to find that you've already gone can leave them feeling even more alone. Instead, keep your good-bye short and to the point with a snappy hug, a peck on the cheek, and a "See you soon, buddy!" Even body language can convey that you're just as sad as he is, so stand up straight and smile. It's your way of saying, "You're going to have an awesome day!"
Stay in the Picture
Assemble a mini photo album stocked with pics of the people and things your pipsqueak misses most during the day: Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, his Lego set, his dog. Then ask his teacher to let him leaf through it when separation anxiety strikes. While it sounds counterintuitive (won't that just remind him of all the reasons he has to be sad?), seeing all those familiar faces can comfort a kid who's missing Mom and remind him that he'll get to see his favorite people at the end of the day.
Stick to the Routine
Your preschooler's been happily skipping off to class for months. Now all of a sudden she sobs when you say good-bye. What gives? Occasional regressions into preschool separation anxiety are often triggered by a change, like a beloved teacher going on maternity leave. To calm your small fry's fears, solidify the rest of your morning routine by making a picture chart that shows exactly what she'll be doing to get ready for school. If anything will be different about preschool, like a field trip, warn your child in advance. Showing her that some things never change will help her handle transitions at school.
Get Out More
A kid who flips out every time you walk out the door makes it nearly impossible to, well, walk out the door. But that might be just the key to making your little one feel better at drop-off. Try small see-ya-laters, like walking the dog while your partner's in charge, or heading out for a short date night. Helping her see that your bye-bye doesn't always mean an eight-hour separation may make her more willing to see you leave from day care or preschool.
Make It Work
Sometimes, the only thing that can pull you away from your peanut is the fact that you have to get to the office. Giving your toddler his own job at daycare might help him feel similarly invested in his "workplace." Talk with the teacher to come up with a morning role for your separation anxiety-prone child, like welcoming other kids, passing out toys, or shutting the door as adults leave. Becoming a helper might make him feel more in control of his life at day care, which can give him the confidence to move on with his day without you.
Read All About It
Even though it may feel like your child is the only one barricading himself against the daycare doors, you're not alone. Reading classic books that tackle school separation anxiety, like Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama Misses Mama or Audrey Penn's The Kissing Hand, will not only give you and your little one a way to talk about how it feels to be apart, but it can spark new ways to deal with it. Once your sweetie knows the story, try telling him each morning, "I always come back, just like Mama Llama does."