How can I help my toddler overcome separation anxiety as she starts preschool?

Sometimes as parents we don’t know how our children will react when faced with new routines. Dr. Wegman gives us some advice on how to handle these challenges.

By Dr. Ayala Wegman




about the doc

Ayala Wegman is a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.  She has two young boys and deeply enjoys caring for her community at NYU-Langone Global Pediatrics on the Upper East Side of Manhattan where she resides. We are proud to introduce Ayala as our All About The Mom resident pediatrician. You will find her advice in our Ask a Doc section.


Do you have any tips on how to help toddlers adjust to a new class at daycare? My toddler hates the change and cries every morning about not wanting to go into their new class.” 


Separation anxiety is a very normal phenomenon.  Creating a consistent, predictable morning routine will avoid meltdowns and enable your toddler to anticipate what to expect.  Preparing lunches and pre-packing bags the night before can help shave off time in the morning, lowering the stress of getting out the door and imbuing your child with the predictability of routine.


Let your child know that they will be safe and that you (or a caregiver) will be there to pick them up.  Display confident body language, even if you are feeling nervous about the transition.   The goodbye should be quick and concrete, as lingering can create a more difficult separation that can draw out anxieties. Give your child a security object, whether that be a keychain or a stuffed animal to help them feel that you are with them.  I like to put small “treasures” inside of my children’s lunch boxes, which can be silly items that incorporate an element of surprise.  This enables you to maintain a thread of connection during the day.  The idea of the “kissing hand”, popularized by children’s author Audrey Penn, can allow your child to practice mindfulness throughout the day when they need it. The concept involves giving your child a simple kiss into the palm of their hand and having them press their palm with their thumb in order to “reactivate it”.  With time your child will become accustomed to their new morning rhythm and derive joy from the getting ready process.


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