Separation Anxiety

separation anxiety in childcare

Separation Anxiety

Often a parent will misinterpret the anxiety the child is displaying for unhappiness over being at childcare or who they are being left with. Drop-off’s with the childcare giver can be very tormenting for child, parent, and caregiver. In this article, we will attempt to explain why a child reacts with separation anxiety and identify techniques that can be used to alleviate the problem for the benefit of all.

The Theories

In Piaget’s Sensorimotor Development stage, between ages 7-9 months, the infant’s memory begins to develop, and they begin to understand objects exist even though they can no longer be seen. Now, an object is certainly not as important as a person, but that gives you some idea as to when an infant’s memory starts to develop.

Erikson’s theory for birth to eighteen months is Basic Trust vs. Mistrust – Hope. During the first to second year of life, the major emphasis is on the mother and father’s nurturing ability and care for a child, especially in terms of visual contact and touch. The child will develop optimism, trust, confidence, and security if properly cared for and handled. If a child does not experience trust, he or she may develop insecurity, worthlessness, and general mistrust to the world.

It is during this stage that the child is building trust relationships with the parent. Before relationships can be formed with the caregiver, they must first be formed with the parent. The child’s natural instinct is to be with the parent. They identify themselves as being a part of you, not as them being an individual. It isn’t until the autonomy stage that they begin to see themselves as being a separate human being.

Erikson’s Autonomy Stage occurs between the ages of 18 months to age three. As you can see, sometimes it takes a while to get there and all depends on how quickly the child’s independence develops.

The Emotion’s

Now that you can see that separation anxiety can be attributed to the stages of development, does that make you feel better? The answer is probably a resounding no. Leaving a child crying and begging you to take them are absolutely and horrendously heartbreaking for everyone concerned. There is nothing that pulls at those heartstrings any harder than a child desperately wanting to be in the arms of their loved one. The caregivers first instinct is to hand the child over to you. They love the child and watching them is hurt is very painful for them and they may have to suffer that emotion many times that morning. It’s very upsetting. However, the caregiver’s training has provided them with techniques to ease these types of situations.

The Technique’s

There are many techniques available to ease morning drop-offs. Most of them require being built into the morning routine until the child becomes comfortable with the drop-off. All of them require participation and patience by the parent and the caregiver. This is surely not a one-day resolution. It will take several mornings and reassurance by the parent and caregiver that the parent will come back. Everyone involved must utilize great determination in helping the child reduce the anxiety at drop-off.


Talk to the child. No matter what the age, give them a run-down of the day’s activities every day. “Today, we are going to eat breakfast, get dressed, and go to school. Mommy is going to give you a great big hug and kiss and say bye. Mommy will go to work, and you will spend the day having fun with all your friends and playing. Mommy will come back and get you as soon I’m finished working.” Be excited! Make it sound like the best day ever. This may seem silly to you, but a child needs routine and they take emotional cues from you. If you are excited, they will be.

Parents, when you arrive at the caregiver, be sure and greet the caregiver with a hello and smile. The child will read your emotions. Sign the child in, tell the caregiver any imperative information, and start your goodbyes. Be confident in the care of your child and with the fact that if anything goes wrong, you will be contacted immediately. Most children only cry for 10-15 minutes after the parent leaves the room. That doesn’t take away your pain, but it should help to relieve your anxiety.


Greet the parent and child with a hello and a smile. Ask the parent for any pertinent information. Take the child from the parent. Encourage the child to say bye to the parent with a hug and a kiss. Now, you will implement distraction techniques to help with the child’s anxiety.

  1. Sing the “Good Morning” song.
  2. Walk around the room with the child in your arms, pointing out interesting things to them.
  3. Walk to the window. Talk to the child about the weather. The big yellow sun… thick white clouds… the birds sitting on the fence… etc.
  4. Give the child a small breakfast snack.
  5. Give the child a toy.
  6. Sing and dance about the room while holding the child.
  7. Encourage the co-teacher and classmates to say good morning to the child.

The Success

Finding just the right technique will require patience and determination. Once you find the right technique it may work for a couple days and then you will need to find another one. The trick is to not give up. Be consistent with the excitement of being at school. This excitement will impact on the child and follow them into school-age when they walk into kindergarten.

Author: Belinda Davis ©2018