Making a child feel safe is of utmost importance early on in a child’s life. For most families, the first challenging transition is really the childcare drop off. Parents are always hopeful that a child who is uneasy about being left at the daycare drop off in the morning will ease up when they find that they can trust the staff. Families need to heed the advice that a high turnover of staff can create an atmosphere that could further trigger insecurities in kids. A facility needs to be safe, stable, and predictable for kids to have less apprehension and get the full benefits of childcare. In this article, we will discuss what triggers stress in separation and how it can be dealt with.

What is separation anxiety?

Human beings used to congregate and live in small groups like tribal communities. It should be remembered that mothers and other significant caregivers are with the baby every day. Newborns naturally bond with their mothers first and then their fathers. This is a consistent time that spurs an attachment hierarchy. Naturally, we spend time with those who are close to us. Consequently, the more time we spend with them, the higher they are on the attachment hierarchy.


Separation anxiety is the fear of your little one when he is separated from a parent or carer. You do not need to be alarmed though, for this is a natural feeling of children when they transition from their home to the childcare centre. This happens also when transitioning between different carers or any new adventure. Children generally experience this between 14-18 months old then slowly disappear around early childhood.

Why it occurs during childcare drop off

In the attachment hierarchy mentioned, when the number one person (usually the mum) leaves a child with a stranger or even someone in the number 6 or 7 categories (usually child care educator or staff), they will become upset. These little ones are designed to be close to that trusted person at the top of their attachment hierarchy. Hence, the anxiety from being with the stranger combines with stress from being separated makes children feel insecure.

It is critical to make the child feel safe early on. The presence of teachers is unfamiliar to them so it is important to recognise that their feelings are legitimate and right.

Pro tip: Leaving discreetly while your little one is not looking can cause uneasiness in toddlers. They can even be more agitated if you suddenly leave and they can’t find you. Say goodbye to your child during childcare drop off until your toddler gets settled.

Father and daughter

Dealing with your child’s separation anxiety at childcare drop off

By spending time at drop off, you can let your child know that you will just be gone for a while and that you will be back. Talk to your child and say that you will just leave them for a few minutes and that you will be back to pick him up after they have fun, play, or have eaten lunch. Outlined below are other specific tips for dealing with daycare separation anxiety.

Practice goodbyes

It is best to practice saying goodbye to a child before you actually drop him at the daycare. You can ask the help of a family member and try leaving him with this person for an hour. Then you can slowly increase time apart if they’re not crying. This will prepare the child for the actual parting in school.

You can try this for several weeks although it is best that you stay close enough to them especially if your trusted family member will need you.

  • Establishing goodbyes will make your child confident that you will come back for him after a few hours.
  • A firm and loving goodbye every time can also make your child feel secure even if you are not around.

Get the child used to routine

A goodbye routine creates comfort and assurance in kids. Saying your goodbye in the same manner daily creates predictability that your child needs. Giving him a tight hug or a high five means that it is time to say goodbye. Do not stay a minute longer so your child knows that it is indeed time to say goodbye.

Communicate to your child

Give your child an introduction to what to expect during their time at the daycare. Read about the difference between child care and day care. Do not leave out your child in conversations because he may be able to understand the discussion by body signals and communication. Focus your talk on the fun things they will get and always let them know that you will be there to pick them up also.

Don’t drag it out

One important piece of advice that a new mum might miss out on is to keep goodbye times less than 30 minutes at drop off. Even if your child cries, don’t go back to check on him. You can always call daycare after an hour to check if he is all right. It is important that your child senses that you are true to your word since he is able to gauge your moods and often search for cues on how you are feeling. Read about child development in childcare here.

Child playing with teddy bear

Special tokens or comfort toys

Children often carry a comforter or their favourite toy to make them feel at home. It acts as a pacifier to calm them down when anxious, especially during his first day of school. Ideas for tokens or comfort toys to feel loved and reassured:

  • something that gives the smell of the home to comfort babies
  • t-shirt of their mum or dad which may help them sleep during nappy times
  • something from home to play with and share with teachers

Get child familiar with educators

Child-teacher relationship is essential in fostering a safe and comfortable environment so that he will be able to settle down. Children tend to feel secure in a new setting if their parents and childcare centre educators seem to be friends.

Educators who are up-to-date with information are able to manage to drop off well as you are introduced to their process. Your daycare centre should allow you to discuss your child’s culture, likes, dislikes, or maybe when they eat at home. The information given will be useful in creating a caring and loving community ideal for transition. Doing so will also enable educators on the first day to sense the body language of children as they navigate a new environment.

Tips for parents during childcare drop off

It will work best for both of you if you transition slowly into daycare so that your child feels that it is also like home. It is also good to spend a few minutes at the daycare drop off to give your child a feeling that the environment is safe. You need to muster your feelings and overcome that feeling of guilt that you will be leaving your toddler for hours at a time, whether in the morning or afternoon. Here are a few tips to help you prepare because a confident parent supported by experienced and caring educators is necessary to achieve smooth routine drop offs.

Regular check-ins

Use your judgement and listen to your instincts to know truthfully how your child is doing. When your child is in distress, respond and comfort them. It is critical to find a balance between supporting your child and giving them the chance to manage their emotions. After a week, there should be progress with settle in. Check service’s staff if otherwise.

Research your childcare

Take a walk to the centre to see it for yourself. Consider alternative arrangements as you figure out when is the best age to start day care for your child. Make sure that you don’t change arrangements too often as it can be unsettling for kids. You may also talk to the staff of the centre of choice so they can support you as you explain the efforts you expect in transitioning into a new environment of play and finding new friends.

Be prepared

Things may be going on at home after breakfast so inform early childhood staff about how events at home can affect how kids feel. Other ways to be prepared:

  • If your child is still breastfeeding, make arrangements to be able to feed them.
  • If your child is talking in different languages, you can share basic words with the teacher.

Finding the right child care

Teachers provide different levels of education and care as parents of other children differ in preference. While a friend may recommend a service, your search should still be dependent on the needs of your children. Check out our article with tips on how to choose child care. At the end of your search, your gut will help you decide which one will support your child best.

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