Tips for Reducing Separation Anxiety

Sarah Billingham
January 16, 2024

Separation anxiety is a natural part of childhood development. Often this first kicks in when a baby is about six months old and can be a relatively regular occurrence throughout their toddler years. However, at times of significant change such as starting school, moving home, a new baby in the family or having a new nanny can bring the anxiety back to the surface.

Here are our top tips for easing into a time of change and reducing separation anxiety:

Plan ahead

When first introducing your child to a new caregiver or setting, preparation is key. Help them to familiarise by sharing photos and plan some short visits to get your child used to the new people they will be spending time with. When starting a new childcare arrangement, if possible, arrange some settling sessions where you leave your child for short periods initially. This helps your child to understand that they can trust you will be back.

Make the most of story time

Reading stories together about change can be a fun, non-threatening way to help children to begin to think about what the new situation might be like. Talking about relatable characters, rather than themselves, may help them to gain some understanding before talking about their own feelings. There are so many lovely children’s books out there which explore separation anxiety, I Want My Mummy! (Tracey Corderoy) is one of our favourites for pre-schoolers.

Calm start to the day

Keeping the morning routine calm and predictable can be helpful in keeping your child’s anxiety at bay. Try to allow plenty of time to avoid a last-minute dash which can be stressful. If possible, take time to have a few special minutes together sharing breakfast or reading a story. This small investment of time connecting with each other is worth it. Your child feels more secure when they have had some quality time with you and that secure attachment helps them to feel connected and confident even when you are not with them.

Keep it upbeat!

It is really important to be positive with your child at the time you are leaving them. If you are positive, they are more likely to be positive. Equally if you are feeling nervous or anxious it is likely to rub off on them. You may well be feeling nervous yourself or perhaps struggling with returning to work and leaving your little one. Try to talk about and manage your feelings away from your child – kids often pick up on far more than we think.

Prepare for pick up

Your child needs to feel secure in knowing who will pick them up and when. It may be that your child is being met by different caregivers at the end of the day. Perhaps mum some days and dad or a grandparent on another. Talk through with your child who will be meeting them at the end of the day. Pictures can be incredibly helpful with supporting a child’s understanding of their day. A simple visual timetable with a couple of pictures of what a child will be doing during the day as well as who will be picking them up is a great tool. Chat it through with your child before you leave them.

For most children the anxiety will ease and they will settle into the new routine. However, if your child’s anxiety persists beyond a few weeks or they are particularly distressed, do feel you can reach out for support. Chat to your childcare provider, child’s school or health visitor about how they can help or whether there is a service they can refer you on to.

For more tips and tools on supporting early language and communication development visit the Confident Communicators Facebook group or the Confident Kids Blog.

Sarah Billingham is a specialist teacher and runs Confident Kids – a unique Early Years service. She equips parents and practitioners with expert knowledge and the practical tools they need to offer their little people the very best language and communication support.

The SEN Expert offers a range of services for young people, families and schools. We offer support for parents to help navigate the complex world of Special Educational Needs. We will work with you closely to ensure the best for your child.

The SEN Expert was set up by Claire in 2021 following a successful career spanning 12 years in school improvement, special educational needs, safeguarding and the arts.

Claire has worked as a Deputy Headteacher, Assistant Headteacher, Consultant and SENCO in both state and private schools in inner city London, the Southwest, the Midlands and the USA.

Throughout her career, Claire has ensured solid outcomes for the young people she has worked with. Be that a set of good exam grades, a placement in specialist setting or getting a part time job.

Claire is a working mother, and understands the challenges parents face trying to ensure their children are happy and successful. We aim to provide young people with a creative route to the personal and professional adult life they deserve.

Claire sits outside a café with a laptop

SEN consultancy
with a difference.

We offer support for families, children, and schools to navigate the complex world of SEN.

Check out our full list of services at our website www.thesenexpert.co.uk or follow us on Instagram @senexpert for daily advice on special educational needs.

The SEN Expert is a company registered in England and Wales with company number 13523478.