8 Easy Ways to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

8 Easy Ways to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

I could hear the screaming down the hall as I made my way to my 2 yo’s room. Today was the 7th day of daycare and so far, this experience has been nothing short of a horror film. Every morning, we’re forced to look past the tears and console him with phrases like, “You get to play with the kids” and “It’s going to be SO fun playing outside with friends.” He doesn’t seem to hear any of it and each heartbreaking tear was causing me to reconsider our decision. Dealing with separation anxiety in toddlers isn’t something I’m new to, I just haven’t been here in a while and it’s been wearing on my heart…

Putting Our Toddler in Daycare

We put him in daycare twice a week so that I could get some work done and he could begin socializing with other kiddos his age. He’s not potty trained yet, but that isn’t the problem. There are other kids in his class also still dependent on the “comforts” of a diaper. He’s not being bullied or treated unfairly. In fact, when my husband drops him off, a lot of the kids ask him what’s wrong and tell him it will be ok or ask him if he wants to play.

This also isn’t our first experience with this school.

When his older brother was there and we’d pick him up, my little guy enjoyed being there, saying hello to the kids, and often wanted to stay and play.

It makes parenting difficult when your baby or toddler doesn't want to go to school or daycare. Here are 8 tips on how to deal with separation anxiety in toddlers to make drop-off easier.

It’s difficult as a parent to ignore the cries of your child because you are doing what you believe to be “best” for them. At home, he’d be watching tv right about now, losing 100 brain cells by the second. He would be at my desk in about 5 minutes asking for what would be the first of many snacks during the day (or what I perceived to be a cry for attention). Quick snacks and SuperWhy would keep him entertained for the first half of my morning and it was something I felt so guilty about. He’s a bright boy and deserves more time to be taught and socialize with others his age. So I am doing what is best for him…

Or so I thought.


These last 7 days of screaming, kicking, and pleading with me to stay home has me thinking otherwise. I feel selfish for leaving him off in the care of strangers and social dangers to work on MY stuff. It’s a double-edged sword, really- because I’m not only working for me, I’m working for all of us. I guess I just feel guilty about it because I enjoy what I do and am not suffering as much with this change as he seems to be.

So What can You do When Your Toddler has Separation Anxiety?

The way I see it, I can stop what I’m doing and play with him all day, or I can continue on this path of screaming and crying- hoping that he’ll eventually adjust. The latter seems the likely solution because the extra cash rolling in (albeit barely pocket change at the moment) will hopefully grow into a lucrative business for me- benefiting us all. It’s also important to point out that in some twisted way, this is good for him. He needs to learn to be self-sufficient and the earlier we can do this, the better.

In the meantime, from personal experience and the advice I’ve found from other mothers in my position, here are:

8 Easy Ways to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Toddlers

Getting your toddler or baby to go to preschool or daycare can be difficult when they have separation anxiety. Here are 8 easy ways to deal with separation anxiety in toddlers to make drop-off easier.

Set Expectations.

Explain the schedule in detail. As you’re working your way out the door, explain step by step what will happen. i.e. Mommy is going to take you to school, we’ll get out of the car, and I’ll leave you in your classroom with Miss XXXX and all your friends. You’ll have snacks, read books, play with the other kids, play outside, take a nap, and then Mommy will come to get you. Consistency is key!!!

Get them involved and or distracted before you leave.

This doesn’t mean you distract them and sneak off (Don’t do that!). It means showing them a puzzle or other activity and encouraging them to play before you leave. Ease them into their day, but hold firm to leaving. The key is not to linger too long.

Woobie, Lovey, or Transitional Toy

Sometimes having something from home can help your child to feel more secure. While some schools don’t allow outside toys, speaking to your child’s teacher or the director of the school about allowing them to bring their blanket, stuffed animal, or any other comfort-giving toy might help top make the drop off transition easier.

Surprise box.

When my eldest started daycare, I would arrange a box of random things around the house and leave it in the living room. Every day after daycare, she was excited to come home and see what was in the box that day. It also kept her busy for quite some time after we got home, allowing me some time to get things done. I don’t recommend putting the box in the car because the surprise is short lived. Instead, place it on the couch so that they have something to look forward to when they get home and remind them at drop-off that the surprise box will be there when they get back. I used to put small toys and other items that they don’t normally get to play with like a spatula, plastic cookie cutter, etc…

Trust your caregiver.

Many children only cry for 5-10 minutes after drop-off. If you child is inconsolable for an extended amount of time, the school will reach out to you, so don’t show any apprehension or anxiety before you go. This will just heighten your child’s anxiety and your sticking around doesn’t really help.

Enroll your child in a school with classroom cameras.

Chances are that your child doesn’t want to stay because he/she loves you and misses you. If you’re worried about what is going on during the day, choosing a school with classroom cameras can help to ease YOUR anxiety. Also, if you are able to check on your little one while they are there, you can understand more about their day and start more positive conversations about what they did. (We all know that little ones don’t remember or have much to say about their day when asked.) Chances are that their tantrums are only because they’ll miss you and you’ll see that they are fine without you there.

Open communication with the caregiver.

Don’t be afraid to ask the caregiver what your child’s day was like. How long did they cry for after you left? What was their general mood that day? What did they eat? How long was their nap? Who did they play with? What did they play? Finding out more about their day can help to spark conversations with your little one. It will remind them of the fun things they did at school and how it wasn’t so bad. Maybe they’re not eating the right things or getting enough rest, which is causing more stress on them.

Linger at pickup.

Don’t linger at drop-off, but if allowed, linger at pickup. Getting your child used to school might be easier if they see that you are comfortable there, too. If you can, try not to just pick up and leave. Instead, ask them to show you what they did around the classroom that day.  If you both spend time there together, you child might get used to the fact that this is a comfortable place to be.

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At the End of the Day…

It’s not easy to drop off your little ones when they are so visibly upset. Work with the school and teachers to find a solution acceptable for everyone, but don’t give up!  If the crying persists for more than, say a month, then it might be worth looking into a different classroom. Some children just mesh better with different personalities and finding the right teacher might just be the issue. (Be sure to give your teacher a FAIR chance and time before exploring this option!)

The important thing to remember in all of this is that your child will eventually need to function outside of your home- WITHOUT YOU. They will need to learn coping skills eventually and preparing them for this transition earlier than later will help down the line.

For more information on helping children grow and adjust, check out Raising Self-Sufficient Children and Why You Need to “Neglect” Your Children.

How did you survive separation anxiety with your toddler? Any tips to add?


Pamela is a Freelance Writer, Blogger, WAHM of 3, and Veteran Military Wife living in Southwest Texas. Raised in the Northeast and having lived a few years in the Pacific Northwest, she likes to write about mom life, parenting, frugal living, experiences, and WINE. (Lots of wine!) When she’s not busy chasing toddlers around, you can find her on the blog or on social media. Check her out on Instagram: instagram.com/wineandlavender

12 thoughts on “8 Easy Ways to Deal with Separation Anxiety in Toddlers”

  • These are ALL great ways to deal with separation anxiety. I love the idea of a surprise box, I think that would have worked for my daughter when she went back to daycare. We had about 8 weeks of her crying off and on at drop off, I hated it!

    • Isn’t it the most heartbreaking thing? It’s sad because you know that they just want to be with you. These tips have definitely helped with the anxiety for us. 🙂

  • I don’t have to many kiddos running around in my life but this was still an interesting read. I’m passing it along to my aunt and uncle who have a few younglings haha.

  • This is definitely a difficult milestone that most parents experience with their children. These are great tips for making sure parents and kids have a positive experience.

  • Those are great tips for separation anxiety for toddlers. It must be SO difficult to leave toddlers at daycare when they are crying. Sounds like you’re doing the right thing!

    • Hey Lori- it’s so heartbreaking, but one of those things that HAS to be done. It’s getting easier with these tips, though!

  • I do not have children and I honestly had not given this any thought before! It had never occurred to me that separation anxiety would be a problem, but that totally makes sense! Thanks for the education today, and I bet these are great tips for parents!

  • This is a great post! Our little one is in daycare and going on to Kindergarten in January. Love these ideas for first time moms like me.

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