Managing Separation Anxiety | New Canaan & Darien Moms

Saying goodbye can be challenging, especially for young children who are in the early stages of learning to separate from their parents. This abrupt change from the flexible baby who would snuggle up in the arms of any adult to a child demonstrating signs of separation anxiety typically emerges around six months of age, when the infant develops the concept of object permanence. Suddenly, a baby is aware that people continue to exist even when they are not immediately present. These newfound emotions are complicated by the fact that the child has not yet developed a sense of time and therefore can’t reliably predict when their parent will come back. While separation anxiety most commonly emerges with Mom and Dad, these upset feelings can extend to transitions away from other preferred people, including babysitters, grandparents, and the like. Typical signs of separation anxiety include crying, clinginess, resisting attention from others, and difficulty falling asleep without a parent nearby. Fortunately, with consistent implementation of the key strategies described below, separation anxiety can be eased, teaching your child that Mom and Dad always come back- and they can have positive experiences with other people too!


1. Provide exposure to a variety of caregivers as early as possible. Children who have a history of positive experiences with a variety of caregivers learn flexibility early in life and are therefore better prepared to navigate transitions as they arise. Identify other caregivers who may play a critical role in your child’s life as soon as possible. Invite them into your child’s world so that by the time separation is required, the presence of a different caregiver is familiar.

2. Practice short separations and work towards longer ones. Start small, simply separating from your child to complete a quick task in another room before returning. As your child demonstrates success, slowly and systematically increase the duration of the separation from just a few minutes to longer spans of time. Once your child is consistently tolerating separations that occur within the home setting in which they are most comfortable, begin to increase the distance as well. Leave the house to complete a task in the backyard, the garage, or the driveway. From there, you can begin to take short trips away from home, once again working to increase the duration of separation systematically over time.

3. Teach your child to ask for you to come back. Children thrive when they have a sense of control over their world. Teach your child that their words matter by empowering them with language such as, “Mommy, come back.” If your child has not yet developed verbal communication skills, model a gesture instead. When your child begins to demonstrate signs of separation anxiety, prompt them to request your return. Immediately reinforce these requests by saying, “Great job asking Mommy to come back,” and immediately returning. Once your child is consistently requesting that you return, establish boundaries by saying things like “Mommy will be back in one minute. First, I need to put the groceries away.” Create short delays before reinforcing your child’s request, expanding their ability to tolerate increasingly challenging separations over time.

4. Pair with novel caregivers before separating. Babies establish a special relationship with their parents that they do not share with any other caregivers. Pair yourself with novel caregivers in advance of the separation to teach your child that while Mom and Dad are tons of fun, new people can be fun too! Invite novel caregivers to your home, ask them to join in playtime, and include them in daily routines, familiarizing your child with their presence and supporting the development of a positive relationship at the same time.

5. Keep your cool. Separation is not only hard on children but also on parents as well. Remember that children reference their parents to learn how to respond to the world around them. When parents are calm, children learn that the situation is positive, safe, and exciting. When parents are distressed, children learn to be afraid, as something bad is likely to happen. Model positivity and confidence as you navigate separations with your child, teaching them that the transition ahead is sure to be a positive one.

6. Follow through on your promises. Do your best to return when you promise to. Children benefit from knowing that they can rely on your word. If Mom says she will be back by dinnertime, and she always is, there is less reason for panic when the moment to say goodbye comes. Failure to uphold promises can create uncertainty and worry, culminating in a sense that the separation should be avoided at all costs because there is no guarantee that Mom and Dad will be back when they promised.


Most importantly, remember that separation anxiety is, in actuality, a sign of success! These behaviors are key indicators that a child has met critical developmental milestones and a healthy relationship has been developed. In fact, challenges related to separation are a common phase in the parenting journey, representing a natural progression in a children’s developmental progression.


Meghan Perazella M.Ed. BCBA LBA (CT)
Meghan brings passion and over fourteen years of experience to The Hangout Spot and The Play Space. She has provided special education and behavior analytic services in both home- and public-school settings throughout Fairfield County. Meghan earned her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction for Students with Severe Special Needs and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Human Development from Boston College. She later completed her Post-Master BCBA Certificate at Endicott College.

The Play Space’s mission is to provide learners ages birth-4 a science-backed, nurturing environment that embraces young children’s natural desire to play to develop socially, physically, emotionally and cognitively under the care and guidance of highly trained professionals within a safe, all-welcoming environment. We are located at 124 East Avenue, Norwalk, CT. You can learn more about us at www.

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