Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety in Children

Separation anxiety is a very normal part of our young children’s development. And some children will experience it more strongly, and for longer periods than others. Children who haven’t had much exposure to separating and reuniting, limited time with people outside their family unit and not a lot of time in the outside world can have amplified feelings when it comes to separation anxiety. Naturally, babies who are kept very close feel safest being close to their loved ones.  

Also, understandably, the anxiety of separation and of the child going out into a wider world, are not just on the part of the child. The closeness and safety has become the ‘known’ to many parents too.  

So, how do we help— tamariki and ourselves, to strengthen their separating and reuniting ‘muscles’ so they can build relationships with other caring adults, and manage varied environments and experiences outside of their home? Here are some things we need: 

  • Kindness. Big emotions need companionship. We can leave space for them to be expressed, while still allowing the separation and reunion to happen. (Emotions will come at both these points, and are to be welcomed and not ‘taken personally). Kindness also means we’ll make sure the child knows what is happening, and we follow through on plans, and leave when we say we will, without ‘tricks’ or sneaking out. We can also appreciate that new experiences are new, and our child might need time to feel safe, and to stay close if out and about in new places, with busyness and potential sensory overwhelm.  
  • Trust. Children feel more secure if we trust the caregiver we’re leaving them with, and convey that trust. (If we’re ‘wobbly’, our child will join us in the wobble). Feeling good about the choice of care is really important. But there is also trust in the child’s ability to experience this separation and be okay, and that they can experience and move through tricky emotions, and it won’t permanently harm them, or our relationship with them. We can also trust that even if they are afraid in new situations now, it doesn’t mean they always will be.  
  • Practice. If separation hasn’t been the norm, we can’t expect it to be easy straight away. Or for our child to go from no time without us, to long, long days in week one. We can practise. Take small steps. Some shorter days, then longer, then maybe a rest day. The same goes for anxiety over new experiences. We don’t have to throw them in the deep end, but can dip our toes into busier places, noisier experiences, or unpredictable events. All the time, staying close, checking in, and letting them find their feet, at their speed.  

When we have a child who is experiencing anxiety, it can feel easier to avoid what makes them anxious—being away from us, trying new things. But, when coupled with kindness, exposure to these things can really empower our tamariki. They can put ‘braveness’ in their kete, or toolbox, to carry into the future, and learn that other people and the world can be trusted, and even enjoyed.  

Kindercare has some practical and helpful information on how we work together with parents during their first few weeks. We suggest having a further read of the steps we take in your child’s early days at Kindercare if you’re starting at one of our centres soon. Let’s work through any seperation anxieties you or your child may have to ensure a smooth transition to our centre and a positive time of settling in, in these early weeks. 

Childcare that begins and ends with loving care