Mighty Blog

Transitioning routines and anxiety: tips for parents

School is starting again and later in the fall; many parents will likely head back into the office. So, what about the younger kids who got used to having the family around 24/7? The transition back to the so-called “normal” family routine can be tough on toddlers and younger siblings.

Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, provides tips to handle separation anxiety with kids and parents.

What does separation anxiety look like?

When toddlers feel separation anxiety, it may show up as crying and being clingier when you leave your child or when they are faced with new situations. It happens most often between the ages of 6 months and 3 years and is a common part of your child’s development.

The stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, such behaviors may sometimes be seen in older children as well.

How can parents help their young kids feel safe making the transition back to the old routines?

Old routines like going back to daycare or being left with a sitter could be a tough transition for young kids. Helping your child transition as you go back to work, or their older siblings got back to school, may be a process which takes time and planning. Here are a few tips to prepare your kids for transition:

  • Partnerships. Partner with your daycare provider the same way you partner with schools. Ask about their daily schedule to help with the transition. Ask about their daily schedule at daycare and help with the transition by shifting your home schedule to mimic it where possible. Make sure the daycare knows specifics about your child and can tell your child that. For example, “Your dad says your favorite book is…” or “Your mom says, that you love apples!”
  • Daycare. Visit the center or home with your child before beginning care. Show your child that you like and trust the caregiver.
  • Babysitters. Arrange a visit with in-home caregivers while you are at home or when you need child care for a short time.
  • Stay calm. Keep calm. Remember that children pick up on adults’ behavioral cues. To help your child stay relaxed and feel safe, modeling calm behavior yourself is important. Remember to instill positivity outwardly, even if you are also feeling a bit of anxiety.

How can I as apparent survive the transition or separation anxiety?

Quick goodbyes.

Create quick goodbye rituals. Keep the goodbye short and sweet. If you linger, the transition time does too and, so will the anxiety.

Consistency is key.

Be consistent. Try to do the same ritual at the same time every day you separate to avoid unexpected factors whenever you can. A routine can diminish the heartache and will allow your child to simultaneously build trust in their independence and in you.

Be present.

When separating, give your child full attention, be loving and provide affection. Then say goodbye quickly despite their antics or cries for you to stay.

Build trust, keep promises.

Keep your promise. You’ll build trust and independence as your child becomes confident in their ability to be without you when you stick to your promise of return. Let them know how excited you will be to see them at the end of the day.

It’s just a phase.

Remember that this is a just phase — even if it’s hard to separate, your kids will gain a new trusted relationship with their new daycare provider and feel more secure.

Alexandra Rothstein