9 Ways to Help Your Child's Separation Anxiety at Daycare

You’re going back to work after baby and are already pretty emotional about dropping off your precious little heart in the care of strangers. What makes it even harder is that all the experts (and daycare staff) will recommend that you not linger, as the longer you stay, the harder the transition becomes.

If you’re looking for ways to get your child to adjust quickly to the transition to daycare, look no further.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the most helpful tips curated from parents and experts who have been there, done that, and cared enough to write about it.

Because all kids are different, and you know your child the best, this isn’t a buffet of tips for you to use all at once.

Pick and choose which tip you think will be most helpful for your particular little. Try it for a few days or a few weeks to see if it helps your child adjust to the transition of daycare.

If it’s not happening, try something else.

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Use A Goodbye Ritual

I love this suggestion from Mindfulreturn.com, which suggests using “A kiss, a hug, and push out the door.” She describes all the reasons this works including

“For us, the process looks like this: (1) one “squeezy hug,” (2) one “squeezy kiss,” and (3) one push out the door. Yes, my children are quite literally permitted to push us, on our butts, out the door.

You can read more from Mindfulreturn here.

Hot tip: I did this with my almost 3-year-old recently and he pinched his fingers in the door trying to “push me out” he was so excited. Make sure to remind your child to not slam the door on their fingers. My quick goodbye turned into 30 minutes with ice and extra snuggles (and we haven’t tried this tip again since!).

Mother and daughter

DGAF Mom Goodbye Ritual

We have our own goodbye ritual in my family.

Something that started as a goodnight ritual that we adapted (because it was so familiar) to daycare drop off:

A big squeazy hug, a kiss, and a high five. Once the high five is done, then they’re off like a shot!

My kids have been in daycare since they were just a few months old (6 months and three months to be exact). And while they didn’t have any initial separation issues at first, they grew into it as their little developing minds grew.

I love this because it empowers them to feel somewhat in control of how they start their day. And because it’s familiar to their routine at home - in that we hug, kiss, high five before bed, it’s already associated with mommy or daddy leaving them.

having a silly good by routine is a fun way to get your kids to feel good about starting their day at daycare

Don’t Sneak Out!

This tip comes from Sarah Rosensweet at Peaceful Parenting.

While your daycare provider may encourage this so you can avoid witnessing a crying baby if you sneak out your child may begin to think that you can disappear at any time.

Do not sneak out! Always say goodbye to your baby/child. If you sneak out, it’s easier for you not to hear them cry, but it’s harder for your baby. It teaches her that you could disappear at any time and creates tons of anxiety.

Make a Mom Memento - From What to Expect

I love this idea from What to Expect.

To ease the pain of parting, let your little one keep a piece of you with her all day — like a scarf or a hankie that smells of your favorite perfume or an inexpensive, oversized chunky bracelet she’s seen you wear. Or give her a piece of her own "good-bye jewelry."

“Tie a special string bracelet around your wee one's wrist, then kiss it and tell your toddler, "I'm filling this with my love." When she feels stressed from separation anxiety, she can touch or kiss the bracelet to get an instant dollop of Mom love to see her through the day.

Also from Today:

A reminder of home will make those first few trips to daycare a little easier and provide comfort on difficult days. Wittenberg recommends “anything that smells like home” for babies. That might be a lovey, blanket or mom or dad’s T-shirt or other clothing item. A laminated family portrait that an older child can hold onto can help too.”

packing a lovey or a familiar toy from home or from mom can help your baby transition to daycare.

Pack a Family Picture Book

This tip comes from Mom 365 who recommends packing a small picture book of family and close friends for your child to take with them to school (and look at any time they get sad and miss their family).

If your little feels sad about you leaving, settle him down with the distracting task of flipping through photos of mom and dad, siblings, and even pets. Consider laminating it for increased longevity!

Read more Here.

Beck from Mombeach.com has had success with this as well:

I gave my baby one of my worn shirts to comfort him. He was three months when I put him in daycare.”

Order a personalized Shutterfly Book Here.

Your Baby’s Firsts Happen When You See Them

I love this tip from Apres Group, and it’s something I did instinctively with my second but stressed about way too much with my first.

“A lot of the moms I work with through Mindful Return are really worried about missing out on their baby’s firsts – the first time they roll over, or sit up, etc. But a baby can do all of these things for the first time while your back is turned, or alone in a crib at night! So I encourage all new moms to adopt the mantra: “my baby’s firsts don’t happen until I see them.”

“I remember the sheer glee I felt upon seeing my son clap for the first time. And this glee wasn’t diminished in the least when I learned from daycare that he had been clapping there. Childcare providers will also often agree not to talk about firsts if you don’t want to hear about them.”

Mother and daughter indoors kissing and smiling

It’s Okay for For Your Baby/Child to Cry

I can’t tell you how many times I walk into daycare behind a child who is crying and a parent or guardian who is telling her “don’t cry.”

I hate this so much for so many reasons.

Yes, I know it can be embarrassing for your child to cry in public, but try to put yourself in their shoes. They’re heading into a strange place with strange people and are about to be left “alone” and now, they’re being told that they can’t express their feelings about this.

It’s okay for your baby to cry on the first day of daycare, or every day after that until they get settled into their new normal.

This tip comes from my blogging buddy over at One Weird Mamma.

It’s tough as parents to see our kiddos get upset. As a Mom I wish my kid was always happy, smiling and celebrating the joy of life. But that doesn’t always happen. And let’s face it tantrums are one of the least favorite parts of being a parent.”

Instead of diving in to stop or “save” them from the big emotions, acknowledge them. Saying something like “I know you’re sad that you don’t get to see your friend anymore. It’s ok to miss your friend(s)” will let them know that it’s normal to have these emotions.

In the case of daycare validate all these big feelings by saying things like “I know this is all very new and it might feel overwhelming. Being scared is okay. But soon you’re gonna love this place and make some really fun friends!”

Give Your Child an Assignment

If your child has had a few days at the new school and is still struggling with the adjustment, or if they’ve been going for months and suddenly are coming down with a case of separation anxiety try this DGAF Mom Tip.

I like to give my kids an assignment on the way to school if I see them feeling anxious or sad.

I may say something like “You guys, I really want to see your favorite Montessori work tray when we get to school so start thinking about which one you want to show me.”

Or if the class is outside on the playground at drop off, I ask them to show me their favorite part of the playground, or where they can get the tricycles or where they put their water bottles.

The goal is to have them take ownership of their space, and when they do this, they naturally and instinctively start feeling more comfortable. Plus my kids are so proud to show me their world.

At one point, my baby’s class had a tortoise pet, and every day his assignment was to figure out where Franklin the Tortoise was (he would often be walking around with the kids out on the playground) so we could check on him and make sure he was okay.

Sam was often so focused on if Franklin was okay, that saying goodbye to me came secondary and was filled with big hugs and kisses and a run off to see more of Franklin!

teacher and kids playing with geometric shapes

Enlist the Help of the Teachers

Your child’s caretakers see this happen every single time a new friend starts in their class and are used to navigating the different personalities that come in and out.

If your child is still struggling with the drop off transition, ask for help and suggestions from the teacher.

Sometimes, particularly after a holiday break when they’ve spent every day with me, my boys might want to linger for dozens of more hugs and sometimes even hang on me not wanting me to leave.

At this point, I’ve become accustomed to giving a glance to their teachers who know that it’s time to step in and help. They always have something for my son to help them with - be it helping to set up a snack or become the line leader. It’s always toddler or baby appropriate and snaps them out of their obsessive focus on my leaving.

Once they decide they’re ready to help the teacher then saying goodbye becomes a pinch.

Tips to Help YOU (Yes, You, Momma) With Your Transition

You’ve been so focused on making sure your baby or child has the tools to help adjust well to daycare that by the time you’re back in your car the flood of emotions might hit you.

(Or was that just me?)

I started the daycare transition a bit early by having my first son in half days a few days a week, so when it came to leaving him ultimately, I was ready.

With my second, he didn’t have as much time at home with momma, and he didn’t get the luxury of a long luxurious transition.

In both cases, by the time I made it to my car I was an emotional ball of tears. I was excited about going back to work, but I was so sad about leaving my babies all day long.

The two feelings can exist at the same time, and this emotional sandwich is something that will be part of your parenting journey for the rest of your life.

The high highs, the low lows, and you somewhere stuck in between.

Be gentle with yourself and trust that you’ve chosen a quality daycare facility to care for your baby.

But also, learn to trust your mom gut.

We had to switch daycares when my oldest was about 11 months old (he’d been there for four months, and had been bit without any explanation four times).

Trust your mom gut.

If something feels off, it probably is, and be ready with a backup plan should you need to make a change. In the case of that first school, the older classrooms were far more prepared and equipped to deal with the children than the infant classes.

Do you need help making sure you’re choosing the right daycare for your baby? Check out this post from the Professional Momma:

How to Choose a Daycare - Professional Momma

Check Out These Other Posts from the DGAF Mom:

How to Prepare To Go Back to Work After Baby

What You Need to Buy to Get Ready for Daycare

Mom Hacks to Help You Get More Shit Done

How to Prepare for Your Child's First Day of Daycare

The Ultimate Guide to Formula Feeding Your Baby

The Gift Guide of All Gift Guides for The Mom Who Has Everything

What To Make for Dinner When You Just Don’t Give a Fuck

The Delightful Surprises of Having a Second Child

Help your child transition to daycare without tears or fears with these unique ideas for the first day of daycare. Separation anxiety. Preschool drama. Transitional object ideas.