Question: Hey there, this is Travis from Minot, North Dakota. I’ve been a Parents Club member for a while and read your newsletter every morning. My 2- year-old daughter is very attached to my wife and me. Every time we take her to daycare or leave her with a babysitter she screams and cries relentlessly. We thought she would stop when she got older but it is still going on. I’m wondering if you have any tips to help separation anxiety in toddlers? Thank you!
Answer: Many kids will calm down and have a perfectly nice time once mom or dad take off, or soon after, beginning the day this way can definitely be tough. According to psychologist, Jaquie Nickoriuk, it’s normal for some kids just have a personality that’s cautious or slow to open up to new situations. It seems like you’re dealing with a particularly stubborn case of separation anxiety, but there are some things you can try to make it better.
Explain The Routine
First, when you’re taking your daughter to school, explain exactly what’s happening so she knows what’s coming up. For example, you can say, “We’re getting in the car now. Oh, look, we’re about to arrive at the daycare. We’ll see your friends soon.” Explaining the morning routine can help calm fears of leaving. When you walk up to daycare you can say, “when we get to daycare today, I’m going to hug you and kiss you and say goodbye, and then I’m hoping you can walk into your room and play with your friends.” Then end by saying you will be back after she is done playing with her friends. If possible, try to keep drop-off and pickup times consistent so they can find comfort and build trust by knowing after playtime, someone is coming to pick them up.
Also, don’t reprimand them by saying things like “don’t cry this time,” because that will only increase her stress. Try empathy instead by saying “I know this is really hard for you. Let’s try to find some ways to make it easier.” Sometimes it helps if your child has a friend in the class that you can carpool with.
Then, at the end of the day upon pickup, use positive reinforcement. Acknowledging and validating the challenges of drop-off will make her feel good about how she handled them. This could look like saying “You were nervous this morning, but you did a great job, and you had a great day!”