Separation anxiety is a natural thing for toddlers to experience as they begin to become aware of the concept that something – or someone, like Mom and Dad – still exists even when they can’t see them. The anxiety comes from not knowing if or when Mom and Dad will be back if they leave the toddler’s sight.
Here are a few ways to help eradicate your little one’s worries when it’s time for them to start going to daycare:
Make it familiar first
Spend time with the caregiver or at the daycare together before you leave your toddler there alone. If your child sees that you know where they are and that you are at ease with the person or at the facility, they won’t be as anxious about it.
Tell them what to expect
Give them a rundown of what their day will look like. First they’ll have snacks, then storytime, then playtime outside, then naptime, then you’ll be back for them after stuffed animal cuddle time. That will give them some concept of what they have to look forward to for the day, and when they will see you again.
Keep it brief, calm, and positive
The separation is as big a deal as you make it. If you act anxious and uncertain, like continuing to return for another hug, or looking back with worry in your eyes as you leave, your child will think there is something to be anxious and uncertain about. Don’t drag out the goodbye, and keep the framing and phrasing of it positive. Say something like, “Have a lot of fun with Mrs. Smith and all the kids today honey, I’ll see you after nap time!” rather than “It won’t be so bad here, and I’ll never leave you forever.”
Get them occupied right away
Have an activity or special thing ready to go as soon as you depart. Having your kid be engaged right away with a fun game, an activity that requires their mind, interest and attention will help ease the transition immensely because they won’t have time to dwell on it or compound it in their mind.
Have a goodbye ritual
Doing something the same way every time will help trigger their understanding that this is what happens now, we say goodbye, and then this will happen, and then Mom or Dad will be back for me. This routine – whether it’s a high-five and then you leave, or a special kind of kiss, or three kisses on the cheek – will let them know it’s the usual routine, no big deal, no need for drama or anxiety.
Don’t indulge the drama
Speaking of drama, if your child throws a tantrum, wails inconsolably, attaches herself to your leg, or any other manner of making it exceptionally difficult for you to leave, it’s important you leave anyway. Be calm and loving but firm that this is happening and it will be fine but they need to do this now. Don’t let their melodramatic tactics keep you there, because that will reinforce the idea that doing that will work. You still need to go out the door. You can call and check 10-20 minutes later to make sure they’re ok – chances are, they’ll be happily busy with their new classmates and activities.