raising an independent toddler

Mom-Approved Tips for Easing Toddler Separation Anxiety

Fast forward to last month …Luna spent her FIRST EVER weekend away from home and literally had the best time without me. I can’t even believe it! I’m almost a little hurt by how much fun she had. But also *really* relieved. It makes me happy to see her growing in confidence. She’s finally realizing she can step out of her comfort zone and I’ll be right here waiting when she’s ready to come back.

With that being said, it was definitely a process getting to this point. I received a lot of great advice along the way (and also some not-so-great advice, ha!). Here are a few things that worked for us - plus some tips from other mamas as well!

Tip #1: Start off slow. Your toddler’s BIGGEST fear is that you’ll go away and not come back.

“We focused on short outings, such as a one hour coffee date close by in case she needed us … this organic progression just naturally built until just recently our 3 year old did almost 3 full days without even asking for us once. It definitely DOES happen in it’s own time!” - Joyvel Grant, creator of the Mama Thyme blog

Which brings me to my next tip …

Tip #3: Talk about the plan ahead of time. Let your toddler know what to expect. Tell them where you’re going and when you’ll be back for them.

This tip is also helpful for bedtime!:

“Some nights my son will ask me to stay with him. He and I have agreed that I can stay for 1 minute. I use a timer on my phone and as soon as it dings, I say “goodnight” and leave! It hasn’t solved the problem completely but it’s helped!” - Emily, creator of the Making with Mommy blog

Tip #7: Always say goodbye. Sneaking out might seem like a good idea but it could actually backfire. Your toddler’s anxiety may actually worsen when they realize that you could disappear at any time without warning.

Another mama said she does almost exactly the same thing:

“I don’t draw it out … otherwise it makes it worse! I give her a hug and a kiss goodbye and tell her I love her and I’ll see her soon. My nanny says she pretty much stops crying the second I’m gone.” - Michelle, creator of the mom & lifestyle blog MichelleMoehle.com

Tip #2: Know it might get worse before it gets better.

Toddlers are scarily good at noticing patterns. Luna barely noticed when I dropped her off at daycare on Day 1 - she was already having too much fun with all the new toys! But by Day 3 she started crying the moment we walked through the door. And on Day 4 we couldn’t pry her off of me!

At that point, I realized a few things. First, I needed to adjust my expectations. Second,

I needed to find ways to create positive experiences apart for Luna. No more waiting until she cried to pick her up. Instead, I’d leave her for 5 minutes and come back while she was still happily playing. By

Tip #2: Stick to familiar places/faces when you can. When you hire a new babysitter, ask if they can come to your house.

It really helped when my mom came to our house to watch Lu! It meant she was in a space that already felt safe. Plus she was familiar with my mom because we Facetime all the time!

And if you’re going somewhere new - like daycare - you can stay with her for the first day or two while she explores her new surroundings:

“For us, talking to her before we go somewhere where I'll be dropping her off (preschool, etc). I explain that it's time for fun with her friends and I'll be back. (We even sing the Daniel Tiger song "grownups come back"! I also talk to her teacher for a few minutes so she sees it's okay to trust her teacher. Mine definitely feed off my behavior of how comfortable I am with other people and then she follows my lead. Now she rolls right into school and tells me moms aren't allowed in!" - Kristen, creator of the Lovely as a Mother blog

Tip #2: Put her feelings into words. Sometimes toddlers don’t have the words to express how they’re feeling. But in most cases, Luna calms down the moment she realizes that I understand where she’s coming from. So if I’m dropping her off at daycare and she’s upset, I’ll say You’re feeling upset? And a little sad?" Sniffle, nod. “It’s okay to feel a little sad sometimes. But mommy thinks you’re also really brave like a superhero!”

Tip #1: Read about it together …. and then try role play!

“Our favorite book has been Owl Babies by Martin Waddell. We also talk about what will happen when I leave and actually act it out so that he can practice being “okay”! - Emily, creator of the Making with Mommy blog

Tip #xx: Give positive reinforcement. I like to reward Luna for trying new things on her own. So when goes to daycare, we’ll head to the park for some family time afterwards!

Tip #6: Use the art of distraction. A great sitter or daycare worker will help you with this. Whether it’s a fun toy or silly faces, they’ll bring out your toddler’s sense of humor in an otherwise stressful situation.

Tip #5: Bribe them. It sounds terrible but it really does work! Luna’s favorite things are fruit/veggie pouches If I need her to go to daycare, I’ll tell her they have snack packs waiting for her there!

“I make sure to have snacks handy! It’s familiar and distracts her - and also calms her down. I also engage in whatever I’m leaving her with … like if it’s in the child watch area at the gym, we’ll chat with other kids and play whatever is there for a few minutes until she’s comfortable enough to play on her own. I always try not to let her feel like I’m just leaving her if that makes sense. Also, I give her something to look forward to, like maybe the park afterwards if she calms down and behaves well!” - Shyla Cino (follow her lifestyle & motherhood blog here!)

Tip #x: Change your mindset. I’d actually never thought about separation anxiety as a good thing until I read this tip!:

“My best tip is not to push them too fast into independence. At such a young age, they just feel secure with you and have hesitations about being apart! Plus having that foundation sets the stage for your toddler to develop secure relationships with others as they grow … so my tip is simply to change your mindset and not look at it as a negative! What ended up happening for us is by not pushing it too hard our toddler suddenly started developing more independence on her own. It seemed to work 10x better to let her form relationships with others and decide she wanted to separate rather than from me forcing her.” - Joyvel Grant, creator of the Mama Thyme blog

Tip #5: Try to be compassionate. It’s soooo frustrating when your toddler is clinging to you and you really have to go! But remember that this is a big change for her. Reward her with lots of hugs and snuggles and try not to lose your mind completely when she has a meltdown.

Along the same lines …

Tip #2: Keep trying. It took a while for Luna to get over her anxiety. Part of that was my fault … I was so anxious about her meltdowns that I honestly stopped trying to fix the problem. But my friend Shannon made a really good point:

“The more we got involved in social activities, the easier it became for him to let go of me and do things independently. I think he realized that it’s just as fun as playing with mom … it was really tough at first, though!” - Shannon Thomas (follow her on Instagram here!)

Waiting on responses from:

  • Savannah Yost

Good luck mama!

With love,

Lace