Separation anxiety

Image sourced from

Image sourced from

It’s that time of year when children are beginning new adventures… starting school, child care or preschool and there are mixed emotions. There’s excitement as a result of the social and learning opportunities that are ahead for each child, however parents and educators may be feeling anxiety due to the transition process and settling in that is about to occur.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is the common and normal fear that children have of being away from their parents or carers.

What does it look like?

In early childhood, crying, tantrums, or clinginess are healthy reactions to separation, but anxiety can greatly vary from child to child. Not every child will find being away from their parents or carers upsetting, and not every child will respond in the same way. When children are upset, they can express this in a number of different ways:  

  • Some may be visibly upset, and will cry or call out.

  • Some may have physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea or tummy aches.

  • Some may appear nervous, restless, clingy, or quiet and withdrawn.

What can educators do to help a child?

  • Create a daily routine with photos of what is coming next, eg. wash hands, then morning tea or lunch then rest.

  • Before a transition occurs, talk with the child and explain what is going to happen next.

  • Spend time with the family and their child on arrival. If you are not already aware from their enrolment forms, ask questions about likes, dislikes, allergies or medical conditions.

  • If you are aware of what a child likes, set up a learning experience to cater for this interest.

  • Provide comforting cuddles and speak softly to the child about their feelings

What can parents do to help their child?

Image sourced from

Image sourced from

  • Go on a tour before beginning, maybe have morning or afternoon tea there, help your child to become more familiar with their new environment.
  • Go shopping together for a special lunch box, hat, water bottle and bag, get excited!

  • On the first day, pack something from home, whether it be a family photo or favourite toy. This familiar object will help a child feel safe and secure in their new environment.

  • Prepare your child by talking about fun things that they will do during the day. What do they have to look forward to? Talk about their teachers and who will be in their room that day.

  • Build a regular routine around drop-off and pick-up so your child feels secure and is able to predict when you will come back. Share a 'high five' or a special goodbye hug as a regular goodbye routine. Settle your child in an enjoyable activity before you leave.

  • Say goodbye to your child briefly – don’t drag it out.

  • Give your child a pick up time, not 3:00pm, rather “after rest time”

  • Children pick up on cues from adults, if you seem worried, this may influence their behaviour. Stay calm and happy whilst saying goodbye to your child, you’re welcome to cry in the car on your way home or to work.

  • When you pick up your child, spend extra time with them to reconnect again. Talk with your child about their day and what they enjoyed. You might be able to look through a daily book or slideshow of photos if in an early childhood setting.

Image sourced from

Image sourced from

For goodness sake, DON’T…

  • Sneak out whilst your child is playing, always say goodbye briefly and explain when you will be back.

  • Hang around and prolong the goodbye, making it harder for you, your child and the educators

  • Be later than you said you would be on pickup


There are so many exciting times ahead this year! I hope these tips help educators, parents and children transition smoothly into their new environments.

Sarah Cameron