Say good-bye and please don’t cry

Separation anxiety and your toddler

Breakfast was great, you sang lots of songs on your way to preschool and now it’s time to say good-bye. All of the sudden, big tears roll down his chubby little face, and the lower lips starts to pout and quiver. Then a loud wail comes out that would scare any stranger. Separation Anxiety…nothing breaks a parents’ heart more.

The good news…separation anxiety is a stage of development that comes as natural as learning to walk. This stage is called cognitive growth. What was once “out of sight out of mind” is no longer true. The thought of you leaving can cause much grief. This inner conflict of dependence versus independence can feel very sad to a toddler. It usually starts around eight to ten months of age and sometimes lasts well into the third year or older. It can also disappear for a period of time and may bloom again when new situations arise.

Here are some helpful tips to ease separation anxiety for you and your toddler:


  • Moms, make sure you feel comfortable with the preschool and its caregivers.
  • Talk to your toddler about his new school before you visit. Tell him about their great toys and all the new friends he will meet.
  • Get some books at the library about starting preschool.
  • Visit the school a few times before the first day. And try to stay calm if he’s a bit clingy. This is all new for him.
  • Ask his teacher how she deals with separation anxiety. Does she try and engage the toddler in an activity, take him outside, or play in one of the centers?
  • Start with a half-day schedule if possible to make the transition easier. Try and have the same drop-off and pick-up time each day. A consistent routine is very important. Your child will know that after a certain activity each morning or afternoon, mommy or daddy will pick him up.


  • Try to be patient and understanding when your toddler won’t let go of your leg!” I had one Mom that used to tell her toddler it was Mommy’s job to go to work and Jordan’s job to have fun at school. This worked great!
  • Acknowledge his feelings. Say, “I know you feel sad when Mommy leaves.  But I will always come back.”
  • If your child gets into melodrama, don’t join in. Engage him in an activity then quickly and calmly leave with a confident smile.
  • Don’t make your good-byes too long. Hanging around for more than ten minutes will only make the separation that much harder for both of you.
  • Don’t peek in the window. If your toddler sees you, this will send the message that this place may not be safe.
  • Don’t ever sneak out, this is not only disheartening to your toddler but breaks down his trust in you.
  • Ask the teacher if it is okay to bring a special “lovey” from home for naptime. A small blanket or stuffed animal can be very comforting.
  • Separation anxiety is sometimes more pronounced if your toddler isn’t quite himself. Make sure and tell his teacher if he didn’t eat breakfast or have a good night’s sleep.
  • Let his teacher know if you work in the same building as the school. Knowing there’s a chance he could see you during the day is a good heads-up for her.  
  • If you do run into your toddler while you are at work, give him a kiss and tell him you are proud he is having fun in school. Make the visit short. If he starts crying, give him another kiss and walk away. Let his teacher handle it.
  • Before you leave your toddler at preschool each morning, give him a kiss inside each little hand. Tell him they are mommy’s kisses to hold until she comes back. These kisses will remind him how much you love him. This will make your toddler’s heart smile.


  • When you pick him up, tell him what a good job he did having fun and you are so proud of him!
  • Remember…. Separation Anxiety is only temporary. This is just another stage of development that helps your toddler blossom into his own. Keep a smile on your face as this too shall pass! 

Blythe Lipman is the president of Baby Instructions. She is passionate about babies, toddlers and their parents. After working in the field for over thirty-five years, she wrote her fourth award-winning book, HELP! MY TODDLER CAME WITHOUT INSTRUCTIONS. You can purchase Blythe’s book on,,, Tablets and all major bookstores. You can hear Blythe's weekly radio show on Wednesdays, 11am EST @ Call Blythe’s office to schedule an in-home (AZ only), video or telephone consultations at 480-510-1453.  Become her Fan on Facebook and Twitter.