How can I help my child with separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is when someone feels upset or fearful about being away from another person. This can sometimes happen if your child has been spending a lot of time with you. They may find it difficult to leave you, or become upset or clingy.

Some children will find it takes some time to adapt to changes to their routine, like starting nursery or school. Or there may be other changes in their life where they need some extra support.

It’s quite common for children to feel this way, and you can help them understand.

Help your child understand

It might feel hard to leave your child, especially if they’re upset. But over time, spending time with others will help your child build their independence.

Practise the idea of separation with your child to help them get used to it. Allow them to get more comfortable with the idea of being away from you.

  • If you can, leave your child in the care of a close friend or family member for a short time.
  • Give your child as much information as you can about any new routines. This will help them to know what to expect and feel less anxious.
  • Help your child test out new routines. For example if they’re starting a new nursery, you could walk the route with them.
  • Talk to your child about any shared plans in the near future. Help them see that there are things to look forward to and change can be a good thing.
  • Speak to your child’s nursery and school and your GP if you think extra support will help.

Make the process easier

Try some tactics to make the process feel easier for both of you:

  • Introduce new routines in small steps in you can.
  • When leaving your child in someone else’s care, ask that person to come to your house. Familiar surroundings are likely to comfort your child.
  • Keep any goodbyes short. Reassure your child that you’ll be back at a specific time. Try to follow through on this. Be consistent to help your child feel confident that you’ll return.
  • If you can, be positive in front of your child. Children can often pick up on feelings of tension from others. Seeing you in a positive mood will help them learn that the separation is not a negative experience.
  • Read, watch or listen to stories to help your child adjust. The Invisible String and The Kissing Hand both deal with this issue.
happy childhood icon

This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

More on understanding emotions and behaviour

Talk to us

Talk about the issues that are worrying you with a parenting coach. Use webchat or WhatsApp to have a free and confidential chat.