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Why Are Good-byes So Hard? Separations in the Toddler Years

Resource Type

Parent Handouts and Info - Parent


Discusses common separation anxiety during the toddler years, and strategies for managing toddlers' fears of saying goodbye, including preparing the child in advance, establishing routines, managing parental anxiety, and using comfort or transitional objects.


All Ages

Age Groups

Toddlerhood (1-3)

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Why Are Good-byes So Hard? Separations in the Toddler Years

Why Are Good-byes So Hard? Separations in the Toddler Years

Toddlers can have a hard time separating from parents and parents can have just as much separation anxiety! Parents and toddlers who are very connected may have a hard time letting go. For toddlers, being apart from their "secure base" can be very scary, and they can actively protest. Parents can have an especially hard time leaving when their child is so upset. And if parents feel guilty about leaving or are anxious about childcare arrangements, good-byes can be even harder! Here are some tips for a "good" good-bye:

  • Prepare your child. Let your child know that today is a childcare day or that you will be leaving. Let your child know when you will be back in a way that your toddler understands. ("I'll be home to kiss you good night," or "I'll be home after you watch Sesame Street.")
  • Be OK about leaving. If you are upset about saying good-bye, you may communicate that to your child without meaning to. Don't ignore your child's distress, but be upbeat and reassuring.
  • Establish a ritual for leaving. A story, a hug for every hour apart, your toddler gets to open and close the door-choose a routine that is comforting and gives your child some control.
  • Use a comforting object. Have your toddler's favorite stuffed animal, a picture of you, or a blanket available for your toddler.
  • Leave. After your good-bye ritual, don't prolong the discomfort by lingering. Say your good-byes, and then really leave. Call the child care provider a little later to reassure yourself that your child adjusted if you need to.

Adapted from Healthy Steps. Edited and Compiled by the Center for Promotion of Child Development Through Primary Care 2011

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