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8/15/22 blog post

5 tips for dropping your child off at day care


Toddlers and pre-school aged children tend to experience the most extreme feelings of anxiety, sometimes related to separation. It is also at this age that parents tend to begin dropping their children off at day care during the work day. Naturally, the transition into a new and unfamiliar routine can prompt tantrums caused by your child’s anxiety.
No parent wants to see their child stressed. When your child is upset and begging you not to leave, the temptation to give in to their demands can be very real. Knowing whether to stay or leave during your child’s emotional outbursts is a challenging decision for parents.

We suggest these five tips to smooth out the drop-off process and ease your child’s separation anxiety:

  1. Keep goodbyes brief and consistent. Having a routine with your child that you practice at the same time every day can help make the goodbye easier for both parents and children. If you stick around longer, there is more time for anxiety to build up.

  2. Be affectionate and attentive before you leave. This will help comfort your child and build their trust. Even if they beg you to stay longer, keep the goodbye brief but meaningful.
  3. Have a plan your child can understand. When you are telling your child goodbye, explain to them when you will be back in a way that is easy for them to understand. You might tell them you will return after snack or nap time. Communicating a plan to your child in their own terms will make the separation less stressful, because they understand it will come to an end.
  4. Stick to your plan. After you drop your child off, try your best not to return sooner than you promised them you would. If you are missing your child, or are feeling guilty about your child’s anxiety, that is okay! Staying consistent with your drop-off and pick-up routine will help ease the process over time. Going back sooner than planned may only feed into your child’s behaviors at drop-off in the future.
  5. Practice separation at home. Asking grandparents, friends or other family members to watch your child for a short period of time will make separation more normal for both you and your child. If you can do this before dropping your child off at daycare for the first time, it might help reduce feelings of anxiety throughout the new transition.
  6. Designate a transition object. This can be an item that your child carries from home to school as reminder of the process. Some kids take a picture of their family, a stuffed animal that stays in their backpack, or maybe a lunch box that signifies that it’s time to go to school.

Take heart in knowing that expressions of separation anxiety in this first big transition for your child is a sign of their love and attachment to you. Day care drop-off is a great opportunity to build your child’s trust in you, along with their own sense of independence. For more information about separation anxiety in children visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Mary Beth DeWitt, PhD.

division chief behavioral health, psychology
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