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Separation and independence

Once children become toddlers, they grow in independence as they start to understand they are their own person, separate to you.  That doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically find it easy being left with others, or be able to settle happily when you’re not there.

New routines and new environments can make children more anxious and clingy. These tips will help you and your child cope more easily with being apart:

  • From when your child is very young, it’s a good idea to go to ‘stay and play’ groups to give them a chance to develop social skills in a reassuring environment. Your Health Visitor can point you in the direction of groups at your nearest Children’s Centre. Similarly, activities like going to the park or to soft play centres, to parties and other social events will help your child learn about turn taking, problem solving and help them feel confident playing with other children.
  • Where possible, practice short periods of separation by arranging to leave your child with other family members or friends. This will make it easier when they start at pre-school (all 3 to 4 year olds can get free early education or childcare hours, and some 2 year olds are also eligible – find out more).
  • Little children haven’t yet developed a good sense of time, so it feels the same to them whether you’re leaving for a couple of minutes or a couple of hours. For that reason, never sneak away when they’re not looking as they’ll think they’ve been abandoned for ever.
  • Develop a goodbye ritual with your child – this might be a special wave, or just a kiss and a hug. When you leave them, don’t make it a drawn out process. Just tell them that you’re leaving, reassure them that you will return, and then go. If someone else is picking them up instead of you, make sure they know that.
  • Smile, even if you want to cry! Children pick up on their parents’ anxiety and it can feed their own. Try to hold it together until after you’ve walked away.
  • Trust the staff at the nursery/preschool setting, or the childminder, to comfort and reassure your child. This will also encourage your child to interact with other adults and practice talking to them about their feelings.
  • Make sure you talk to the childcare provider about your child’s routines, likes and dislikes. Bringing in a special toy or comforter from home may make it easier for your child to settle.

Page last reviewed: 02-03-2021

Next review due: 02-03-2024