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Helping Children with Goodbyes and Coping with Separation Anxiety


Separations are a part of every child's life. From putting kids down for an afternoon nap to dropping them off at a child care center as you head off to work, learning to be apart from each other is important for both your child and you. Teaching your child to say goodbye at a young age will make separations easier for both of you later on.

Your child needs to feel close to you in order to feel cared for and loved. This emotional closeness is what may make it difficult for your child to part with you. Children between the ages of 10 and 24 months tend to feel this separation anxiety the most. At this age, your child is learning to remember you when you are apart, but she might not always understand that you will come back. This fear may continue until your child is 3 or 4 years old, but you can take steps to help your young child cope with these emotions.

  • Start early – Teach your infant about goodbye to set a positive pattern for the future, even if your baby is too young to understand what you say. If you hesitate, or don't clearly show that you're leaving, you may be showing your child that you aren't sure about leaving. Instead, assure your child that you'll be back soon, hug, wave goodbye and put your child in the arms of the care provider.
  • Use events to explain time – Your young child will understand, "I'll be back after you wake up from your nap," as opposed to "I'll be back at 4:00."
  • Allow your child to keep a comfort object – A special toy, picture of you or blanket can comfort your child during times of separation.
  • Allow your child to make choices for small events – When children try to take charge, saying things like, "I'm not going to child care," let them make decisions about what they'll wear to child care or what toy to bring in the car since they don't get to decide whether or not they're going to child care.
  • Say goodbye – It may seem easier to slip away while your child is busy, but it's hard once your child realizes you're gone. You may damage your child's trust, which can lead to more difficult goodbyes in the future.
  • Be patient – Understand that acting out when you return is a sign that your child feels safe enough to unload the day's emotions. Let your child know you missed him or her and spend some quality time together to help your child calm down.
  • Introduce child care before the first day – Visit the child care center or introduce the babysitter before you leave your child the first time. On the first day, confidently explain that you'll have to leave, but explain that you'll miss your child and you'll be back soon.
  • Don't hesitate to reach out for help – You can get support and information by contacting Military OneSource online or at 800-342-9647, including non-medical counseling services provided at no cost for service members and families. Military and family life counselors, available through installation military and family support centers, can also provide non-medical counseling support for you and your child.

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