5 tips for managing separation anxiety

Apr 1, 2019 7:00:00 AM / by Amber Lappin


Have you ever walked into a room full of people who are already engaged and felt immediate panic? Unfamiliar places filled with unfamiliar people and unfamiliar expectations are awkward for many of us, and young children are no exception. Separation anxiety takes many forms and can vary in intensity. From a single tear to a full-blown meltdown, some little guys just struggle with saying "goodbye" to mom or dad. Have no fear, because there are a few tried-and-true methods which can help ease the tension for kids, parents, and teachers alike:

Remember, routine is your friend

Setting up a morning order of business on both ends of drop off can be your best tool. 

Put your children to bed on time the night before and wake up at the same time in the morning.  Have a morning routine (ex: first we eat breakfast, then we brush our teeth, then we get dressed, then we read a story, then it's time to get in the car) and stick to it.  Kids (and grownups!) who know what to expect are able to behave better. Also, make sure you're regularly bringing your child at the same time and not skipping days while they are getting adjusted, or it'll be like starting over each time. 

1-2-3 Go!

Once a child arrives at school/church/childcare, the faster the goodbyes, the better. Though it feels counterintuitive to a parent, the longer they linger, the harder the transition for everyone. 

 On your way there, remind your child that you are going to walk to class with your child, help them put their things away and wash their hands, and then you are going to give them a 1-2-3 (hug-goodbye-kiss) and then you are going to go.  It's important that you stick to this, even if they cry.  Teachers will affirm this- the longer you stay, the longer your child cries after you go.  A quick goodbye helps with a quick recovery.

Keep it positive!

When adults watch their words, tone, and body language, children follow suit. Sometimes, grownups don't realize they're giving mixed signals.

Parents, this means you will need to watch what you say to others (remember, your children are listening) about your child's teacher, your feelings about leaving them, or your worries about if your child will EVER make it.  Also, be careful to avoid saying things which will make your child think there's something to worry about. For example, "Don't be scared, mommy will be back soon." Implies it's scary at church/school. Instead, "I just know you are going to have so much fun today! I can't wait to hear all about it when I come to get you!" helps set your child up for success.


Don't give up!

For many children, this can be a long process. With a little stick-to-itivity, you will find that even the most stubborn child will eventually want to join his/her classmates and have fun.

Depending on how often your child attends, it could take anywhere from a few days to a few months.  They key is not to quit.  If you keep it up, your child will learn an amazing thing- you always come back! If you say "Well, she doesn't like when I leave, so I'll skip church/work today," you are pretty much ensuring that this process is going to take a lot longer. Prepare yourself for the long haul: the reward is right around the corner!

Celebrate the win!

Make sure to celebrate even the little steps- the first time your child only cries instead of screams, the first-time they choose a toy to play with instead of lingers by the window, the first "No tears morning!" do a happy dance!  


Be aware that sometimes separation anxiety will re-rear its ugly head when you least expect it. However, you now have some good tools and a victory in your pocket, so you'll be able to nip it quickly and easily.  

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

If you have any other tips on how to help separation anxiety let us know in the comments! 


Topics: Early Childhood Ministry

Amber Lappin

Written by Amber Lappin

Amber is a speaker and writer with over 25 years of experience in early childhood development and children’s ministry. She works as an associate professor at Mt. San Jacinto Community College in the child development education department, and as a grant program director for two nationally accredited preschools. Amber enjoys "small town" Southern California living with her husband of 25 years, Jason, and their three children.


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