Separation anxiety is a heart-wrenching thing to deal with as a parent. While it can occur anywhere and at any time, it does tend to develop more when your little one starts daycare.
This is understandable, especially the first week of daycare where it’s all new and your little one isn’t used to being away from you. But what if your toddler has been going to daycare for a while now and they’re still not used to it? Or, if they’ve been perfectly happy to be separated from you to go to daycare, but now suddenly they’re clinging to you and begging you not to leave?
The truth is, daycare separation anxiety can strike at any time – even if your child has been perfectly happy to be left up until now, anxiety can develop seemingly overnight. So, what can you do about it and how can you tell if it’s normal, or if something else is going on?
Dealing With First Day Anxiety
Separation anxiety is most commonly experienced on the first few days that your little one starts daycare. It may be understandable, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
One thing that can really help to minimize the trauma for both you and your toddler is to simply be prepared. This means talking about daycare with your little one and making it sound as exciting as possible. Explain you won’t be able to stay with them, but you will be going back to pick them up and they’ll have plenty of fun with all of the other children there. Of course, it depends upon how old your toddler is as to how much you can explain, but talking about it will help to prepare them for the impending start.
Another great tip is to visit the daycare and meet the teachers before your toddler starts. That way, it won’t be a complete shock and they’ll already recognize some of the people. This also gives you an opportunity to discuss potential strategies you can use to minimize the chances of tears when it comes time to leave.
A common thing many parents do on the first day of daycare, is wait for their little one to be distracted before sneaking out. It’s logical, but this can actually make it a lot worse for your toddler. Once they do notice you’ve gone, the first thing they’re going to do is panic. They’ll feel like you’ve abandoned them and this can be a lot more traumatic than the tearful goodbye. So, instead you should always take the time to say goodbye, but keep it short. Don’t let your own fear or sadness show as this too will be picked up on by your toddler. Simply smile and cheerfully tell them you’ll see them later, before telling them they’re going to have an awesome time.
It might be a good idea to stay with your toddler for a few minutes before you leave. Often, all they need is a little familiarity and encouragement before you head off and leave them to it. So, for the first few days, try to stay to help them settle in for a few minutes.
Dealing With Sudden Separation Anxiety Development
It can be really confusing, frustrating and worrying to see your toddler suddenly develop a fear of being left at daycare. Did something happen and should you be worried? The truth is, it’s probably nothing.
It’s common for toddlers to regress a little and go back to fearing being left alone. The question is, how should you handle it?
Sticking to a familiar routine is a good way to start. Often, the regression could be down to a change at daycare. It could be a teacher has left, or there’s been some change in the daycare schedule. Whatever the change, your little one needs to know that some things stay the same. So, create a little schedule chart which you can both go over in the morning. This will highlight exactly what they need to do to get ready, and whether there’s anything going on that day that could potentially worry them if they aren’t prepared, such as a field trip.
It’s also important to let your toddler know it’s perfectly fine to be nervous. The most common thing to do when your child regresses is to become frustrated and say something like “Come on, be a big boy/girl, you’ve done this so many times before”. The tough love and logical approach doesn’t always work and in some ways, can make it worse. Instead, letting them know it’s ok to be scared and reminding them of previous times they have faced their fears and been ok, can be very reassuring.
Showing them a little extra attention at home can also help. You might think this would make them more upset when it’s time to leave them at daycare, but it can actually make them feel more secure and confident. So, make extra time for bonding and see if that makes a difference.
General Daycare Separation Anxiety Tips
Regardless of whether your toddler is distraught because it’s their first time at daycare, or whether it’s a sudden development that’s appeared a while after they’ve started, there’s a few general tips that can help.
Giving your little one something to remind them of you that they can keep with them is a great idea. It could be a little handkerchief that’s been sprayed with your perfume, or a special bracelet they can keep with them just for daycare. Tell them it’s filled with your love and if they feel sad or scared, they can just touch it and they’ll feel your love. It’s surprising how well this one works and it can do wonders to comfort them throughout the day.
Another thing that might work is spending less time with your toddler at home. Now, I know this contradicts the advice given above about being more affectionate, but it’s a good tip for those who spend practically every waking minute with their toddler. The trouble is, if daycare is the only time you are separated from them, they are going to find it really difficult. On the other hand, if they’re used to you leaving for short periods of time, they’ll find it much easier to settle in at daycare.
Overall, separation anxiety can be a really difficult and distressing problem to deal with. However, it is extremely common and you’re definitely not alone! The above tips and advice can really help make the transition and regression easier to deal with. It will get better and your toddler will soon start to enjoy spending time with their friends without worrying where you’ve got to.
Have any tips or stories to tell? Share them below!