Separation anxiety—when a baby or young child (even into pre-k years!) feels anxious when a parent leaves their sight—is part of normal development. But when older, preschool aged children suddenly start showing signs of separation anxiety (crying when the parent leaves the room, clinging, waking up at night, or difficulty doing routine things without their parent close by), it can really catch parents off guard!
While sudden, everyday separation anxiety might be confusing and frustrating, remember that children often show us how they’re feeling before they’re able to tell us. And, when children feel stressed, their reactions may come much later than when the triggering situation happened.
As much as you can, observe your child’s behavior, talk with them, and try to pinpoint the true cause of their big feelings. Let them know it’s okay to have big feelings and offer reassurance and comfort often. You might also:
- Offer a comfort item or lovey
- Talk to your child about upcoming changes to routine
- Let your child know that you’ll be back when you go to another room or need to be apart for a time
- Give your child extra time to meet new people and “warm up” to new places
- Offer cuddles and one-on-one time
The videos and activities in this bundle offer more ideas that may make being apart a little easier.
Mae’s Minute: Goodbyes
Grown-ups, watch this video to learn tips for making goodbyes a bit easier.
Elmo’s World News: Goodbyes
In this video, Elmo and his friends from all and around the world talk about saying goodbye and offer some fun ways to make goodbyes a little bit better.
Watch together with children, then talk about—and practice—the special ways you like to say goodbye, such as high-fives or double hugs.
Mood Monster Printable
Being apart can bring up big feelings for young children. Helping them learn about and express those big feelings can help make goodbyes a bit smoother. This printable page can be a great tool to help children name—and later understand and regulate—their big feelings.
Try this activity together with your child and put the finished mood monster it in a place she’ll see when she’s getting ready for the day (on the mirror where kids brush their teeth, or near their drawers of clothes, for example). Then, check in with her. Ask, “Can you use your mood monster to show me how you’re feeling today?” Tuning into how she’s feeling can help her feel cared for—and might even help you get ahead of some morning meltdowns.