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Dealing with separation anxiety. Tips to a smooth transition to childcare.

Child development

Separation anxiety. There aren’t many parents who haven’t experienced the anguish associated with a child suffering from dreaded separation anxiety.

As well as being a perfectly normal and natural part of a child’s development, sometimes certain milestones in a child’s life can trigger extra stress for your child. 

This includes starting in an early learning environment for the first time, or changing early learning centres. 

Typically separation anxiety peaks between 10 months and two years old and then decreases as the child nears their fifth birthday. 

One of the causes of separation anxiety is a child’s sense of “optic permanence”. A child starts to develop a sense of optic permanence, which means that they understand that things still exist even when they are not within view. 

When this optic permanence develops, children have a greater understanding that whjile mum and dad aren’t with them at the moment, they will be coming back, University of Sunshine Coast Associate Professor Dr Michael Nagel told

To help your child through periods of separation anxiety when it comes to starting at a new early learning centre, Dr Nagel recommends the following tips: 

Say a proper goodbye: It might sound obvious, but sometimes the temptation to distract your child with an activity so you can slip out while they’re engrossed in something else can be strong. But it can be a scary realisation for your child when they do finally realise that you have gone. Develop a goodbye routine with your child so they can transition to the care of a favourite educator or person you both trust.

Keep to a routine: Establishing a calm and consistent start to the day can take away a lot of stress for both you and your child. Bathing, dressing, hair, teeth, breakfast and packing lunch- factor them all in to your morning routine. Prepare as much as you can the night before so you can focus on your child without distraction for a bit longer in the morning. Leave home at the same time every day and stick to your goodbye routine when you arrive at your early learning centre. 

Explain what is happening: An important part of the routine is talking to your child in calm and reassuring language about what is happening that day and why. Eventually they will understand that mummy or daddy have to work or study and the importance of that can help ease nerves and establish a sense that this daily routine is a part of life and not to be feared. 

Communicate with your educators: This is critical to easing your own stress about leaving your child. If everyone is on the same page with how the daily drop-off should go then anxiety levels should lessen. Consistency and continuity are key and a predictable drop-off routine are vital to ensuring your child feels safe and secure. Having a group of adults telling them that they will be okay, goes a long way to helping your child through periods of separation anxiety. 

Stay calm: If a parent can demonstrate calm and consistent emotions then their child will be more reassured that everything is going to be okay. If you can, keep your emotions in check until after you have dropped your child off and it will help your child feel much better about the situation. 

Be familiar with the new environment: A child’s first day at a new early learning centre should not be their first time in the centre. Take your child for visits in the lead up to their start date and meet and become familiar with the educators. Stay and play when you can, so your child can become familiar with the room and the toys and activities and even the daily routine. This will help them understand that it is a safe and fun place to be. 


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