how to handle a child with separation anxiety

How to Handle a Child with Separation Anxiety: Parents Guide

Separation anxiety is a common childhood issue; most children experience some form at one point or another. It can be especially challenging for parents, as it can lead to distress for both the child and the parent. In this blog, we will discuss how to handle a child with separation anxiety, focusing on methods that promote a child’s emotional well-being.

Separation Anxiety Definition: The Basics

Separation anxiety is the distress a child experiences when separated from their primary caregiver, typically a parent. It commonly occurs between 6 months to 3 years of age and is a normal part of a child’s development.

Some common signs of separation anxiety in children are:

  • Crying, screaming, or clinging to the caregiver when being separated
  • Refusal to sleep alone or attend school
  • Nightmares or trouble sleeping alone
  • Refusing to be left with anyone else, even trusted relatives or friends

While it is a normal part of development, it can become an issue if it persists beyond a certain age or is particularly severe. But, with patience, understanding, and a few simple strategies, you can help your child feel more comfortable with separation and build their confidence.

Key Factors Contributing to Separation Anxiety

Several factors can contribute to anxiety in children, including:

  • Age: Separation anxiety is most common between 8 months and two years.
  • Temperament: Children with anxious temperaments may be more prone to separation anxiety.
  • Parenting Style: Overprotective or overly anxious parenting can contribute to separation anxiety in children.
  • Life events: Major changes or stressors, such as moving or a new sibling, can trigger separation anxiety.

Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Children: Tips and Techniques

child anxiety

Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s discuss how to handle a child with separation anxiety, focusing on strategies that support a child’s emotional well-being.

Create a Positive Goodbye Ritual

Establishing a consistent and positive goodbye ritual can help your child feel more secure when you’re not around. It can involve a special hug, a high five, or a short and sweet phrase like “I’ll be back soon.” Be sure to:

  • Keep the ritual short and sweet.
  • Stick to the same routine every time.
  • Practice the ritual even when you’re not leaving for an extended period.

Offer Reassurance

Reassure your child that you will return, and remind them of when you left and came back. It can help build trust and reduce anxiety. Some tips for offering reassurance include:

  • Maintaining a composed and confident tone while communicating.
  • Sharing examples of times when you successfully returned.
  • Avoiding excessive reassurance, which can inadvertently reinforce anxiety.

Gradual Exposure to Separation

Gradually exposing your child to short periods of separation can help build their confidence and reduce anxiety. Start with brief separations and progressively increase the length of time apart. Here’s a simple plan to follow:

  • Begin with leaving your child with a caregiver for a short period, then gradually increase the duration of the separation.
  • Instead of introducing new caregivers or environments, maintain a consistent routine and environment to provide your child with stability and security.
  • Consider implementing calming activities, such as reading a book, before the separation to help your child feel more relaxed and at ease.

Encourage Independence and Self-Soothing

Encouraging a child to learn self-soothing and emotional coping skills can contribute to the overall emotional well-being of a child. Some strategies to promote independence and self-soothing include:

  • Providing comfort items, such as a favourite toy or blanket.
  • Teaching relaxation techniques, like deep breathing or visualisation.
  • Encouraging your child to express their feelings through drawing or writing.

Maintain a Consistent Routine

A consistent daily routine can give your child a sense of security and predictability and help reduce mealtime stress. Some tips for maintaining a routine include:

  • Establishing regular mealtimes, nap times, and bedtime routines.
  • Scheduling activities, like playtime or outings, to provide a sense of routine and anticipation.
  • Creating a visual schedule or calendar to help your child understand what to expect each day.

Involve Your Child in the Separation Process

Involving your child in the separation process can help them feel more in control and less anxious. Here are a few tips for engaging your child:

  • Allowing them to choose a comfort item to bring with them.
  • Discuss the separation’s details, like where you’re going and when you’ll return.
  • Encouraging your child to share their feelings and concerns with you.

Seek Professional Help if Needed

If your child’s separation anxiety is severe, persistent, or causing significant distress to the child and family, it may be time to seek professional help. A professional can help provide guidance and support tailored to your child’s needs. 

Some signs that it may be time to seek professional help include the following:

  • Separation anxiety that persists beyond the age of 4 or 5
  • Severe anxiety that interferes with daily activities or causes physical symptoms
  • Regression in other areas of development

Nurturing Your Child’s Emotional Well-Being Through Connection

Strengthening the Parent-Child Bond

  • Building Trust through Quality Time: Spending quality time with your child is essential for building trust and a strong emotional connection. You can create a bond that fosters a sense of security and support by engaging in activities your child enjoys, such as playing games, reading together, or simply talking.
  • Encouraging Open Communication: Fostering open communication with your child helps them feel comfortable discussing their feelings and concerns. Be a good listener and encourage your child to share their thoughts and emotions. It will help them feel heard and understood, creating a safe space to express themselves.

Validating Your Child’s Feelings

  • Acknowledging and Empathising with their Emotions: When your child shares their feelings, validating them is essential. It means acknowledging their feelings and empathising with their experience. Show your child you understand and care about their emotions by offering comfort and reassurance.
  • Providing a Safe Space for Emotional Expression: Creating a safe space for your child to express their emotions is crucial for their emotional well-being. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and provide comfort items, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, to help them feel secure during difficult times.

Handling Separation Anxiety at Tappy Toes Nursery

child activity

Tappy Toes Nursery understands the importance of emotional well-being in a child’s development. Our trained staff is experienced in handling separation anxiety and provides a nurturing environment for your child. Here’s how we handle it at Tappy Toes Nursery:

     1. We Provide a Warm and Welcoming Environment

Our staff welcomes each child with open arms and a smile. We provide a positive atmosphere that encourages children to feel comfortable and secure. At Tappy Toes, we strive to foster a sense of belonging and connection with each child in our care.

     2. We Establish a Routine

Our nursery follows a consistent routine that helps children feel more secure and less anxious. With set times for meals, naps, play, and learning and a dedicated sleep centre monitored by teaching assistants, we create a nurturing and supportive environment for children to grow and thrive.

     3. We Encourage Parents to Communicate With Us

We encourage parents to communicate with us about their child’s separation anxiety. By sharing their child’s needs and concerns with us, we can provide the appropriate support and care to help ease their anxiety and promote a positive experience. 

    4. We Allow Gradual Separation

At Tappy Toes Nursery, we allow for a gradual separation, where parents can stay with their child for a few minutes before leaving. It helps the child become more comfortable with their surroundings and reduces their anxiety.

    5. We Provide Comfort Items

We allow children to bring their favourite toys or blankets from home to help ease separation anxiety. These items provide a sense of familiarity and security to the child when they are away from their caregiver.

    6. We Offer Reassurance.

Our staff offers reassurance and comfort to the child when feeling anxious. We understand that separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development, and we work to help the child feel more comfortable and secure in our care.


Promoting a child’s emotional well-being requires understanding how to handle separation anxiety. The strategies discussed in this blog can help your child develop the confidence, independence, and resilience needed to cope with this common challenge. Remember that it is a normal part of childhood development, and with patience, consistency, and support, most children will eventually overcome it. At Tappy Toes Nursery, we are committed to helping families navigate these challenges, providing support and guidance with every step.

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