Dealing With Separation Issues at Daycare Drop-Off

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Preschoolers, Childcare

child screaming picture

Be strong when your child starts crying. Credit: Getty Images

You're out of the house on time, with the whole family fed and dressed for the day. Now comes the hard part: Saying goodbye at daycare as a tearful toddler begs you not to go.

"It's pretty typical for children under the age of 2 to have separation issues during drop-off," says Erin Boyd-Soisson, associate professor of family science at Pennsylvania's Messiah College. But that actually can be "a good sign that they have a good attachment with their parents," she says.

Kids are usually fine within minutes of a parent's departure, but the experience can still be horribly guilt-inducing. Here's advice on minimizing the pain from Boyd-Soisson and Diane Strangis, child development specialist and assistant professor at Meredith College in North Carolina:

Create a routine. Kids are comforted by ritual, so plan a routine for your goodbye and stick to it. Maybe you'll read one short book, then hug goodbye. Or hug goodbye, then have the child wave from a window as you leave the building. "In some cases, a child walks the parent to the door and pushes them out, not shoving them, but patting them on the back, and gives them a little wave," Boyd-Soisson says. "It gives them control."

Don't rush, but don't linger. Some days, you're running late and drop-off is unavoidably rushed. When possible, take five minutes to let your ritual play out calmly. But there's a tipping point: Leave within 10 minutes.

Don't go back.
It's tempting. But once you've said goodbye, returning reinforces the idea that crying brings you back. And don't sneak out: Strangis says the child may believe you're hiding and spend the morning anxiously searching for you.

Use familiar objects. Strangis suggests bringing something from home (family photos, a recording of a parent's voice). If the child is moving to a new room, try having an item on hand from her previous room at the daycare center. Bringing a favorite toy from home can work, but be sure to bring it home each night to avoid tears at bedtime.

Ease into transitions.
If your child is starting at a new school or moving to a new room within his old school, visit the new space with him more than once. If he can spend time in the new room with you, he may feel more comfortable.

Separation issues may subside, then surface again periodically through age 4 or even 5, especially when stress pops up (sick grandparents, a parent out of town, etc.). With time, they'll subside permanently.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.