Separation anxiety is a normal stage of behavioral growth in toddlers, and it arrives at different ages for all children. Some toddlers may be fine when saying goodbye to their parents for months but suddenly become terrified at the thought of Mom or Dad leaving.
Here are tips to assist you in easing separation anxiety.
- Encourage parents to say goodbye and leave the room.
- Distract the child with a special toy or book.
- Hold the child and sing to him if he’s especially upset.
- Maintain eye contact and speak softly to the child.
- Ask parents to “lay low” if they come back to check on their child — seeing Mom or Dad come back and leave again may turn on the tear factory once more.
- Have parents reassure their child that they’ll return.
- Discourage parents from prolonging goodbyes or sneaking out when the child isn’t watching.
- Be considerate of parents — often they struggle with the separation more than their child does. If necessary, provide a gradual transition by having parents stay and play with their child. Parents can talk about how fun it is to be with other children.
- Have parents explain that they’ll be leaving, but they’ll return shortly. It helps to give a time kids can relate to, such as “Mommy will be back after snack time.”
Sondra Saunders is the former leader of Prestonwood Baptist Church’s preschool and children’s ministry with more than 5,200 children in Plano, Texas.