Daycare attendance is inevitable for children with working parents. My husband and I both work full-time, so our daughter has been in daycare since she was 3 months old. For the most part, daycare drop off has been a breeze but there are periods where our toddler goes through separation anxiety. This can make drop off pretty difficult.
Most children go through phases of separation anxiety, which is considered a normal part of childhood development. Although separation anxiety is most prevalent between 8 to 18 months, it can still return for short periods of time after 18 months. (Source)
When my daughter was 15 months old, I remember she suddenly started crying at daycare drop off and it lasted for 3 solid weeks. I was really baffled because there were no major changes in our lives and I couldn’t pinpoint a specific reason for the sudden anxiety and crying. I even spoke to the daycare staff about any possible changes at the facility and there were none.
Since then, my daughter has gone through several phases where she will start crying and become super clingy at daycare drop off. Usually, these phases last up to a couple of weeks and they can be super alarming and unsettling for parents.
So, if your child is experiencing anxiety and crying at drop off, here are some tips to make it a little easier.
1. Talk about daycare in advance
Since I started teleworking last year, my daughter attends daycare three days a week. I always let her know tomorrow’s plans during her bedtime routine, whether she is staying at home with mommy or going to daycare.
In the morning, when she wakes up, I also reaffirm to her that we’ll be going to daycare that day. I like giving her this heads up so that she’s not surprised when we’re pulling into the daycare parking lot.
Letting your child in on the weekly schedule is a great way to give them an idea of what to expect. This can give them a little comfort and security. Even if you think they don’t understand, explain to them anyway!
2. Nurture daycare relationships
Talk about your toddler’s teachers and friends outside of daycare. If your toddler is verbal, listen to what they have to say about the other kids in their class. Nurture and respect those relationships.
On particularly tough mornings when my toddler is refusing to put on clothes, I definitely talk up the fun she is going to have with her friends and her teachers. Often, the excitement to see her friends motivates her to get ready in the morning.
If your toddler is already clinging to you as you walk through the door, look at the sign-in sheet and figure out who is already there. Sometimes, I’ll say, “Oh, Hannah is here already!” Then my toddler will say “Hannah” and run back to her classroom. This one trick has saved us from many teary daycare drop-offs.
3. Don’t rush the mornings
Waking up late and rushing to get ready is never a good thing. When I’m running around like a madwoman, throwing clothes on my toddler, and rushing out the door, there’s not a moment to make a genuine connection with her. I like to have those moments where we connect before she’s gone all day.
When my toddler has ample time to wake up and get ready, maybe even play a little, there’s a huge difference in her mood and my mood. She’s happier and not rushed when I drop her off.
4. Say ‘goodbye’ to your toddler
I always tell my toddler ‘goodbye,’ that I will be back to pick her up, and that I love her. On days that I know my husband will be picking her up, I let her know that he will be there.
It’s difficult to know what is going on in their minds at drop off but your words can make a huge difference in their comfort level. Soon enough, you’ll have a little routine. Other times, you’ll be saying goodbye to their backs as they run off from you to their classroom.
5. Make it short and sweet
No matter what, don’t linger! There have been a couple of times when I sensed my toddler’s hope that I might be staying because I was lingering in the lobby. Then I would leave and she would cry harder.
It’s just too much and too confusing for them when you linger. After I say goodbye, I leave. If I need to speak with a teacher or the director, I usually wait to have those conversions when I pick her up in the afternoon.
6. Check your own emotions
When my little one is sad when I’m dropping her off, it’s devastating for me. I want her to be happy, comfortable, and safe all the time. It’s very hard to walk out the door even though I know she’s going to receive great care.
The best thing I can do is check my emotions so that my toddler doesn’t feed off of what I’m feeling. So, I do my best to stay upbeat and positive for her.
7. Be consistent
Even though I’m working from home and I have a little bit of flexibility, I try to get my daughter to daycare right at 8:00 a.m. That’s when a lot of the children are arriving and starting to eat breakfast. I don’t want her to miss anything or be left out, so I stay consistent with our arrival time.
Toddlers go through many transitions and those can be the times that separation anxiety spikes. When my daughter transitioned to the two-year-old room, there was a lot of crying for her at drop off because it was a new room, new teacher, and new kids. It was overwhelming for her.
During transitions, it’s good to be consistent with the drop off routine and assure your toddler that you will be there for them.
- Additional reading: A helpful list of toddler transitions for two year olds
8. Stay positive
If you’re dealing with toddler separation anxiety at daycare drop off, remember that it will pass. Sometimes it will take a few weeks but that’s okay.
When my daughter first went through this phase of crying at drop off, I would think about her all day and wonder how she was doing. Then, the daycare assured me that she stops crying almost immediately after I leave.
That made me feel a lot better. It helped me to maintain a positive mindset when we were having a tough time at daycare drop off.
Final thoughts on daycare drop off
As a working parent, daycare is a must. We are dedicated to working through any issues as best we can. I would say my top three tips for daycare drop off are no lingering, quick goodbyes, and communicating with your toddler in advance.
I hope you enjoyed the tips in this article. If you have additional tips to ease separation anxiety at daycare, drop a comment below!