Almost all children go through feelings of separation anxiety during some time in their early childhood. In fact, having these feelings are completely normal and stem from their primal needs for safety. Instinctively, children believe that their survival is dependent on having a primary caregiver close by, and thus separation triggers an internal alarm system that warns children that they could be in danger. The emergence of separation anxiety is also an important milestone in which children are starting to differentiate safety from danger, and this knowledge is crucial as they navigate through life and develop independence.

Usually, children out-grow these anxieties as they learn from experience that separation is only temporary, and that nothing bad will come out of separation. However, this period can prove to be a particularly difficult and stressful time for both the child and their families, to a point where it can even interfere with daily lives. For some severe cases, separation anxiety can lead to children not being able to fully integrate into their school community and inhibit them from making friends. Here are a few things that the primary caregivers can do to alleviate this problem and build up their confidence in the process.


  1. Practise separation in everyday lives. Build in opportunities to allow your child to experience separation. Start small, such as leaving your child in a room playing while you go to a separate room briefly for a quick tidy-up, or invite friends or family to babysit for an hour while you pop to the grocery store. Arrange weekend stay-overs at grandparents’ or sleep-overs with relatives and friends.
  2. Prepare your child for separation. Talk to your child about upcoming separation and be as open and transparent as possible. While it may be tempting to sneak out and avoid the fuss of your child crying, this will only rupture the trust in the relationship and may cause more damage in the long-run. When discussing separation, use terms that your child understands. For instance, say “I will be back after your snack time”. Your child will feel more secure when they have a more concrete idea of your return. Make sure you keep to your promise! 
  3. Have a goodbye ritual. Whether it’s a simple peck on the cheek or a more coordinated secret handshake, having a goodbye ritual help to create order around the departure for both you and your child. This is also a good time to remind your child that you always return. For instance, you can ask them, “What does Mummy do when she leaves?” and have them say “Mummy always comes back”. 
  4. Leave without making a big deal. Once you said your goodbye, it is crucial not to let the separation drag on for longer than it should be as it only escalates the anxiety. The calmer and more collected you are, the more your child will feel secure and safe with the separation.
  5. Quality time. Separation can be a stressful time for some children, and it is common that children become fussier than usual. Just as you need a hot cup of tea to unwind at the end of the day, your child needs your warm presence to relax. During this vulnerable time, be sure to give an extra dose of good old one-on-one time, whether it is reading a bedtime story, going out for a quick ice cream or baking some treats together. Extra cuddles and kisses never hurt!