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Toddler Separation Anxiety 101

“These are the best years of your life,” an older gentleman said to me. As sweet and as genuine as he sounded, it was hard to take him seriously while my toddler’s high-pitched scream still rang in my ears. I was probably 20 feet away from the childcare room, and I could still hear her muffled cries. Separation anxiety hit my kiddo hard, and I didn’t know what to do.

I thought we escaped it. I heard it starts around the nine month mark, but my sweet baby would keep babbling and playing whenever I walked away from her. She showed me a glimpse of it around her first birthday with a few yelps, but it never lasted for long. Well, she’s a year and a half now, a full 18 months, and this kid has it bad.

Separation anxiety struck as suddenly as a loud clap of thunder. It’s fierce, and I sure hope it’s not here to stay.

My plan involved sweating it out at my Butts and Guts class for one hour, and she would play and laugh herself to exhaustion in the childcare room next door. In order to help it go smoothly, I let her take her beloved stuff monkey and a sippy cup of milk. When we arrived at the door, I looked her in the eye, whispered that mommy would be back soon, and blew her a kiss.

As it turns out, toddlers do not like plans, so she yelled, “No way!” Then–to make sure that she proved her point–she screamed with glass-breaking force. The teachers motioned for me to leave, and I trusted that they could handle it. My heart was breaking, but I knew she needed to learn to be without me.

Twenty-five minutes later, I was in the middle of a grapevine to the left, and I felt a tap on my shoulder. My Ava was still having a complete meltdown despite all of their best efforts. She was a blotchy and blubbering mess, and my workout had to be cut short.

What’s a mom to do?

She needs practice being away from me, and I need a sliver of life outside of my little one. This separation anxiety cannot mean the death of another fitness attempt. (See my earlier blog post Confessions of a Fitness Failure for the skinny on that topic.) After some quick research on the subject, I found a few strategies that might help:

  1. Develop a Goodbye Ritual

The experts say to make it speedy and consistent. My girl loves routine and structure, so this might be worth a shot. They suggest choosing a catchy phrase like “See you later, alligator” or “Too-da-loo kangaroo!” Then a quick kiss and a happy wave goodbye.

  1. Delegate a Small Job

A few sources say to give her some control by giving her an achievable task. My toddler loves to help out, so I might let her scan my gym ID card and then hand her diaper bag to the childcare ladies. Maybe I can even teach her to open the door for me and then this mama’s tired arms would get a break!

  1. Read Books Together

An internet search yields hundreds of books to help kids deal with separation anxiety. I ordered two board books immediately: Bye-Bye Time by Elizabeth Verdick and The Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon by Audrey Penn. Ava likes Bye-Bye Time the best right now, probably because of its bright pictures and simple text. We have only had it a couple of days, and she is already imitating some of the “goodbyes” in the book.

What do you think?

Share your secrets for getting through the separation anxiety phase. (Please tell me it’s just a phrase!) I’ll let you know if any of your tips work for my little one. In the meantime, send wine because yoga class is more stress than it’s worth at the moment.

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One Response to Toddler Separation Anxiety 101

  1. Michelle Winchell November 2, 2017 at 7:53 am #

    These are all great! It’s a phase, but it might come back again. Just saying… I didn’t deal with it much at 18 months, but had it when she was 3. Books have helped us through many phases from biting, hitting to learning about the potty and strangers. Goodbye rituals are a good idea, especially using the same phrasing. My girl said “two hugs and two kisses” for preschool drop off and it helped. You can tell her several times throughout the morning that she is going to visit “blank” to have some fun. Delegate or distract definitely helps. When I had trouble at drop off one of the teachers gave my girl a job to do like setting the table for breakfast. Is there something she can do only when she is there? Like color a specific book or play with a certain toy ONLY when she goes there?

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