Child hugging mother due to seperation anxiety in toddlers

How to Overcome Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

You might notice that your toddler cries or becomes clingy when you have to leave them. 

This is because until approximately six years of age, toddlers are not fully developed as separate beings, but this can make things difficult when you need to leave your child at nursery or in another person’s care.

Separation anxiety is common in toddlers and is a completely normal part of their development. Not to mention, they usually grow out of it. In the meantime, however, here are our top tips to help you calm your toddler’s anxiety.


Why do some toddlers get separation anxiety?

It might be confusing if your toddler used to be fine when being left, but has suddenly started getting upset when you leave them, even for a small amount of time.

This happens because they have started to realise how dependent they are on you, and start to feel unsafe, anxious and distressed when you’re not around. 

Toddler with separation anxiety playing with parent

Their growing awareness of the world can make them feel uneasy about new situations or being around different people (particularly large gatherings). Other indicators of separation anxiety might be crying when being left alone with someone else, refusing to play on their own, waking up early or being unable to sleep at night.

You should never feel guilty if your child develops separation anxiety – it is actually a sign of how closely you have bonded with your child and is a completely healthy part of development. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the intensity and timing of separation anxiety can vary a lot from toddler to toddler.


How to deal with your toddler’s separation anxiety

  • Start with short separations

It is always best to take small steps to begin with, so as to keep your little one as calm as possible.

Start by leaving your child with someone they already know (perhaps a relative or close family friend), and pop out for a short amount of time. Gradually, your toddler might feel more comfortable to be left for longer periods of time with different people. This will also give your toddler more opportunities to develop coping skills and some independence.

You could also try practising short separations at home. For example, if you were to go into another room, talk to your toddler and when you return, tell them that you are there. Over time, they will start to recognise that your disappearance is only temporary.


  • Keep goodbyes quick and consistent 

Whether you’re dropping your child at nursery or leaving them at home with the babysitter, goodbyes can be difficult. It might be tempting to linger and make sure that your child is okay when you see them upset, but the longer you are there the harder it will be for them in the short and longer term.

It is useful to develop a routine and give reassurance when saying goodbye. Whether this is quickly explaining to your toddler that you’ll be back later, or giving them a big hug, having the same routine will give your child a sense of familiarity. Eventually, your toddler will be able to learn that you always return after you leave them.


  • Be positive 

Young children pick up on emotions easily. If you are feeling worried about how they will react when you leave, they will sense this and might think the environment where they are being left isn’t safe.

Try to keep really positive by smiling and confidently saying goodbye. It is important that after you have said goodbye and gone, that you don’t come back for ‘one last hug’, as this will confuse them. Most of the time, your child will be absolutely fine after a few minutes.


  • Leave your child with a comfort item

Because toddlers crave connection, a comfort toy or item is a great way to help your child feel at ease when it comes to seperations. You might even make sure it has your scent on it to help them relax in your absence.

Again, this will create a sense of familiarity, which can be comforting in new environments.


Settling into Nursery

At Maryam’s nursery, we understand that separation anxiety can be a difficult time for both you and your little one. That’s why we tailor our settling in process to meet you and your child’s needs. 

You can find out more about our settling in process here.