Let Them Grow: Power in Separation

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Making Separation an Adventure

With the beginning of a new school year upon us, many parents might be planning on sending their children to school, daycare or even playdates for the first time. If your child experiences separation anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help ease their transition and enjoy their time away. As a daycare provider who often helps families move through separation anxieties, I cannot stress enough how significant it is to help your child build this early trusting relationship. In my opinion, children often learn to trust during these times of separation. They learn to trust that you as the parent will always return. “Mommy’s and Daddy’s always come back” is my go-to line.

Care providers want your child to want to be in our programs. We want them to love their time away from home, for it to be an educational and fun experience. As a caregiver, I want the children in my care to embrace adventure and a lust for life, and enjoy the beginning of their school experience. When children begin attending programs away from home, they learn to trust their caregivers or teachers; they learn to trust in their parents and most importantly, they learn to build healthy relationships with their friends. Talk with your child about the new transition. Prepare them for the separation and this new adventure.

With the families I work with, I try to create a slow and clear transition into care through these four steps :

  1. Meet the Teachers: First, I invite the parents and child to visit the program during a busy time. This gives the child a chance to blend into the program, to see it in action. They are invited to stay for one hour. During that time, often the child stays close to their parent, but is gaining a valuable experience, just by watching. See if you can arrange for a visitation of a program or new school your child might attend.
  2. Trial Time: Secondly, I ask the parents to leave the child for an hour or two in the morning. This helps the child realize that the program is not for adults, but just for children. Often time the parent is the one that has the most difficultly here. This trail, if all works out, the child in transition usually leaves wanting to stay (this is when I know the transition is successful.) If your child experiences separation anxiety, see if you can arrange for a solo visit for an hour or two before moving on to the third step…
  3. Half Day: Third, I ask that the parents leave the child for a half-day and pick up their child after lunch and before naptime. This is ideally the third or fourth visit to the program. The child now feels integrated and understands the routine of the program. They have the opportunity to see what naptime will be like, they see their friends lying down and then they go home. It is on this day, that I discuss with parents if we need another half day or the next day is the first full day. Most of the time, I find the child is ready and we have successfully had a healthy transition into care. See if you can arrange for your child to attend 1-2 half days at the program or school you are considering.
  4. Going Live: During the first full day of care, each child reacts differently, some need a little extra cuddles, others love every minute. As a provider, I try to make this first day as fun and busy as possible. Talk with your child’s caregiver or teacher to see when the best day for their first full day might be.

Every child handles separating from its parents a little differently. Around the pre-school age, we want to see a child that separates from a parent easily, but this does not always happen, and often time I find that it’s the parents that need the most reassurance and support. It is the parents I send the photos of their happy child to; often times it’s the parent that is learning to let go.

As a parent, keep in mind that your child will sense your emotions, by staying positive and happy about this new adventure; your child will feel the strength you are projecting. By making drop-off clear, calm and consistent, you project those emotions onto your child. Your child will learn that adventure and new experiences should be embraced and not feared. They will learn that you as a parent are always there for them, even when you are not.

[Photo credit: (cc) Maury Landsman]


Candice Chouinard has worked with youth of all ages and backgrounds, creating and implementing programing for children. She revels in hand-on, long-term, messy projects that are both fun and educational. Candice comes from a background in creative writing, as well as, child development and psychology. She owns and operates a day care in Northampton, MA.

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