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Separation Anxiety: How to help your child (and you!) let go and enjoy nursery

It isn't just babies and toddlers who experience separation anxiety - letting go can be difficult for parents too. With summer becoming a distant memory and the new school year now begun, children all over the country have started nursery or pre-school for the first time – and it’s not just babies and toddlers that are feeling the pinch of separation anxiety. We all know that separation anxiety is a normal stage of children’s development yet it’s not always an easy time for them or for us.  

separation anxiety


Helping your child

Knowing that you’re helping your child through this stage can help your own feelings of unease and worry. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Stay calm and be reassuring.
  2. Keep it light - if seeing your child upset is affecting you, don’t let it show. Children are very attuned to their parents’ emotions so do your best to remain cheerful and reassuring.
  3. Give your child something special that belongs to you or his favourite cuddly toy to keep him company.
  4. Find something to motivate and distract your child
  5. Don’t linger. When you leave, leave.
  6. Organise play dates to strengthen your child’s bond with particular children. Looking forward to playing with friends can do wonders to reduce anxiety.
  7. Give your child time to learn and adapt.

Help for you!

Leaving your child upset with someone else can pull on your heart strings! So here are some ideas to make it easier for you:

  1. Quite obviously, being entirely comfortable with the person you’re leaving your child with and having good communication will make a huge different to the way you feel.
  1. Remember that a few minutes after you have left your child, they will most likely be happy and engaged with toys and friends. You could ask the adult in charge of your little one to call to let you know that they’re OK and happily playing. It is reassuring and prevents you worrying all day long!
  1. Sharing how you feel with your friends can also help. Talking to other mothers who are going through something similar or who have experienced it with their own children can help you feel less alone with it. Feeling understood goes a long way.
  1. Plan something nice for yourself while you are not with your child. Having time to yourself doesn’t happen very often so try to enjoy it - even if it’s just turning the music up and singing to the top of your voice while driving to work!
  2. Try to keep the situation in perspective. I know this can be hard but if you can do it even for a bit, it can help feelings of worry be more manageable.

What if it doesn’t improve?

Keep working with your childcare professional. There are a number of things your childminder or nursery team can do to help your child settle. For example they can organise special activities which your child particularly enjoys to distract him and start building positive associations with his time at nursery. Children’s separation anxiety can also be heightened by their family circumstances. When the family is going through a difficult time (e.g. separation/divorce, financial pressure, illness, etc.) the children can become clingier. If this applies to you then the best thing you can do is keep your own spirits up as much as possible and look after yourself. Children get their sense of security from us, so bring the focus back onto yourself first. Like the security guidelines on planes – “Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others with theirs”. This rule applies in parenting as well as in air travel. If the anxiety persists and is distressing for your child, don’t hesitate to talk to a professional child psychotherapist for more specific help. They often offer guidance sessions which can give you some extra tools and reassurance.  

A final thought

Children are amazingly resourceful and resilient. One of the many tricky and subtle skills we have to develop as a parent is working out how much to intervene and when to let go. No parent does a perfect job; all we can do is our best.

  Svetlina O'ReganSvetlina O'Regan  is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is a therapist and coach who specialises in working with mothers on issues such as stress management, work/life balance and personal development. Svetlina runs courses for women, group coaching and offers one-to-one therapy.  She works with mothers to help them develop themselves so they can create the life they want for themselves and their family. You can contact Svetlina on 07939 598 779 and you can find out more at