Surviving Separation Anxiety

Cynthia Dermody
separation anxiety

Photo by takimia

To cindermarie05 and other moms whose hearts are breaking as they transition their tots back into day care or preschool or send them for the first time, I join other Toddler Moms who've been through it in saying DON'T WORRY. IT WILL GET BETTER. Really, it will.

This is hard to believe when you're standing there, screaming toddler clutching your leg begging you to take him with you, feeling like the worst, most heartless mother in the world. YOU WILL SURVIVE AND YOUR KIDS WILL BE FINE. I promise.

cindermarie05 said the first couple of days of day care were pretty good for her 3 year old daughter. But she's been having a hard time with separation anxiety lately.

"I'm trying to stay positive for her and I always smile when I walk in and ask her questions about how her day went," cinder says. "I know its going to take some getting used to, but I feel horrible to just leave her there when she's crying for me. I have to fight myself to and walk away. It's a big change but I'm starting school, so it will have to be this way for a while."

Moms and day care providers will tell you all you can do is wait it out. And some children will still be weepy months later and cry from time-to-time, but it slowly becomes more of an act to push your buttons than genuine unhappiness.

I started to become immune to the morning theatrics after I'd walk into day care at the end of the work day and see my kids playing happily. Sometimes they'd even ask me, "Do we have to go home already?"

It's the rare case that a child is truly miserable and non-functioning at day care or preschool. In my six years experience with two kids at two different schools, I knew of only ONE child that had to withdraw because she cried literally all day and refused to interact with teachers or classmates. Of course, some children function better in smaller, home-care type settings, so that's a consideration, too.

Absent a magic strategy or quick fix, there are few things that I've found can make drop-off a little easier:

-- Keep your goodbyes short. The longer you stay and the more you drag it out, the more opportunity your child has to get worked up in anticipation of the parting moment. Walk in, put her coat in her cubby, give out lots of hugs and kisses, and disappear quickly.

-- Read a book. When your child settles into the routine a bit, reading together is a nice way to ease into the morning and it helps your child realize that when the book is over, it's time for Mommy to go.

-- Ask your child to write you a letter. On the days my daughter misses me, the teachers give her paper and an envelope so that she can "mail" me a special note each day.

-- Give her a special object. I used to put my barrette in my girl's hair and ask her to take care of it for me, tell her that I would be back later to pick it up.

-- Hang a picture of yourself in her cubby so she can look at you through the day.

-- Wave. My daughter waves goodbye to me from the window of her day care as I'm pulling out of the center's driveway. It's become a facet of our daily separation that puts her at ease.

-- Talk to the teacher. Constant communication is key. You will feel much better when the day care provider tells you that your child stops crying and jumps right into play about 5 minutes after you leave.

What steps have you taken to lessen the heartbreak of separation anxiety -- for your toddler and yourself?

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