Transitioning & Separation Anxiety

This article was featured on The Rhode Show! Click here to view this episode. 


Children handle transitions in very individualized ways. Some children forever handle them with ease, going from school to home and different classrooms with no problem at all throughout the day. Other children have a hard time with transitioning through many portions of the day. As parents, there are many ways you can ease their anxiety and help them through the transition process.

When can I expect transition or separation anxiety to occur?

This process for children can start in infancy and is actually a very normal developmental process for children and is part of the growing up process. However, often it occurs throughout childhood and can happen often, such as:

¨      Going to school/dropping off at child care

¨      Different times of the school day (transitions from one activity to another)

¨      When children get older and transition to different classrooms.

¨      When there is a babysitter/caregiver watching your child

¨      In households where parents are separated and time is spent with both parents.

Although transitions happen often, there are general tips for helping through more difficult times of separation.

What are some ways to help my child transition and ease separation fears?

1. Routine, routine, routine! Children are much less apt to be anxious about transitioning if they expect it. Keeping a routine prepares them in advance for what happens next. If your child is having trouble going to school in the morning, getting them up at the same time every morning and doing everything according to routine prepares them for what happens next.

2. Try to eliminate the unfamiliar. The reason why many children do not like to transition and become anxious is because they don’t know what is going to happen next. If you need to change things up a bit, prepare them early. Walking them through a new task and letting them know that it is new and that its okay will give them time to digest the change before it hits them.

3. Create traditions to help them. If your child is having problems being dropped off at child care, create a daily ritual with the teacher of something he or she might like to do. Allowing them to go to the window and wave goodbye at the same place everyday, or setting up their favorite activity as a center in the morning when he or she comes in gives them something comfortable and happy to look forward to.

4. Don’t stress about the transition yourself. Sometimes, separation anxiety is harder on the parent then it is the child. You may not be looking forward to it, but don’t let your child know it. Explaining to your child how fun it’s going to be or how happy and proud you are at them is important when your child is struggling with anxiety. Children can read their parents, and if you look unsure or upset at dropping your child off at school, your child is going to feel that way too.

5. Know when to leave. The longer drop off is, the harder it’s going to be for both you and your child. It’s okay to spend a couple minutes settling your child or giving an extra big hug goodbye, but then leave and let your child move forward. After all, remember – your child wants you to stay, and if they know that sobbing is going to keep you there – they will sob even longer tomorrow.

How can my child’s school/child care help?

Dealing with separation anxiety may begin with a parent, but there are many things your child’s school can do to ease the process as well.

  1. Keep a daily picture schedule. Keeping a picture schedule at the child’s level is a great reference to a child who has difficulty transitioning. That way, he or she can know what to expect at all times in the classroom and it eliminates surprises.
  2. Plan classroom transitions. When a child may be moving from a Preschool to a Pre-Kindergarten classroom, they should send a note home well in advance to explain the process. That way, the teachers in the classroom know the transition process; the parent knows the transition process and both parties can help the child. Every child transitions at a different pace and starting the process early ensures the best outcome.
  3. Meet the new teachers ahead of time. When a child is moving to a different classroom, the child should be familiar with the room and the teacher ahead of time, especially when transitioning is difficult for a child. The school and the parent should coordinate time to meet with the new teacher and answer any questions you might have.
  4. Transitioning with Peers. It’s important for children to feel comfortable as often as possible. When a child is moving to a different classroom, we always like to have them transition with another peer. That way, the children have each other to help ease the anxiety of the move. 


Nicole Chiello is the Director of The Children’s Workshop in Smithfield, RI. She recieved a BA in Elementary Education and Psychology from URI. Nicole has been with the team for four years.  Before being a director, she was a school-age coordinator in Warwick, as well as a substitute for the Public Schools. Her favorite thing about working with children is the guarantee that every day is different!