Your child having worries about separating from you is a normal part of development. This is particularly true as your toddler gains some mobility by crawling and walking and realizes they are not only able to separate from you, but that you may not be right there when they move away from you. 

Separation anxiety can be seen typically in the transition to toddlerhood through to preschool and can linger even later. It is always important to consider your child’s context and what may be under their worries internally. 

Anxiety about separating can be heightened and prolonged by unexpected events such as parents separating, big events such as moving, and traumatic events such as our recent Lahaina fires. All of these may raise alarms for your child’s internal sense of safety and security. If your youngster tends to be emotionally sensitive, even small changes and events can feel overwhelming, causing them to have worries about separating from you. 

The goal is to create a platform of consistency and predictability as a foundation for safety and security. Here are some tips:

  • Create a predictable daily routine 
  • Have connected time with your child daily—this is the emotional glue that allows them to be more secure when they separate from you
  • Talk about what is coming up for the day so they can prepare in advance
  • Plan together for transitions i.e. what favorite comfort toy they would like to take with them? Who will pick them up? 
  • Ask them what snacks and stuffies they would like to have to wait in the car at pick-up. Have them help prepare their snack and put the stuffies in the back seat- this gives your child agency and control to regulate their worries 
  • Create a calm ritual around a sweet goodbye such as a hug and butterfly kiss
  • Start with small transitions and work towards longer separations
  • Visit new environments and people in advance together, even multiple times, so your child can begin to feel comfortable
  • Talk about changes in the plan in advance so your child is not taken by surprise 
  • Plan your leaving—don’t let your child be surprised by you leaving suddenly without warning; while this may feel effective initially, it just deepens the worries that disappearances will continue to happen unexpectedly. 

Planning with your child helps them learn to hold and manage around their worries. This builds your child’s self-regulation skills and sense of agency in the world. If your child’s anxiety intensifies or is increasingly persistent, consider contacting a mental health professional.