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Separation Anxiety
Authors: Lynette C. Magaña with Judith A. Myers-Walls and Dee Love

Separation anxiety is related to attachment, but other issues are involved, too. Most children have some separation anxiety. Separation anxiety happens when a child becomes separated from a person to whom he is attached at some level. Some children will have separation anxiety when the parent leaves. It looks like the child is afraid of never seeing the parent again. Some children might show separation anxiety from the provider.

Sometimes children act upset before the separation even happens if the child knows it is coming. For example, a child may start crying as soon as the parent opens the door to leave the childcare setting. Some children might start crying as soon as they get in the car to come to childcare. It could even start as soon as the child puts on her coat. The child knows that a separation from her parent is going to happen, and she doesn’t like it.

Parents and caregivers can do things that make separation easier or harder for the child. You can help a parent understand good ways to say goodbye to a child. Saying goodbye and making transitions in certain ways can help when a child is experiencing separation anxiety. After a child stays in childcare for a while, he becomes used to the idea of leaving his parents for the day. He will get comfortable in the new setting. Then separation anxiety will be easier to deal with.


Separation anxiety can happen at many ages, but it will look different. Infants are likely to cry and whine. Older children are more likely to get moody. Some older children will not cling to the parent or cry because they want to look grown up and “save face.” Some youngsters may hide or refuse to get out of the car when parents try to drop them off. Others may think of a thousand ways to stall the parent. Some are very good at making the parent feel guilty.

One thing that helps a child cope with separation anxiety is leaving him with a responsib
le provider. A responsible provider attends to his needs and comforts him when he needs it. This helps him feel secure and safe. It is important to remember, though, that many parents, children, and providers will continue to have some problems with transitions. It may take a long time to get over rough goodbyes. Those same children may have a very difficult time leaving the childcare setting at the end of the day, too.




For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at jmyerswa@purdue.edu

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