Starting School: 12 Tips for Easing Separation Anxiety

{Image: First Week at Cow School by Andy Cutbill, illustrated by Russell Ayto}

And all the cow mothers were sad that their babies were starting school 🙁  This will be me in a fortnight I am quite sure! While Immy is giving me every indication that she will be just fine, she has never been to child care or any form of group care before so I thought now was a good time to revisit some of the strategies for easing separation anxiety (for the kids not the mamas!) from my teaching days. These ideas should be useful for any child dealing with separation, whether they are starting school or some form of child care.

12 Tips for Easing Separation Anxiety

1. Take advantage of orientation sessions offered by the school or child care centre and (where suitable) of any initial shorter sessions. Both of these options will provide your child with the opportunity to become more familiar with the physical space, staff, routines and other children. It will also provide children who have not previously been in any form of care to become used to the idea that you will come back to collect them.

2. Acknowledge your own level of anxiety privately and model a sense of confidence and calm to your child.  Children are very perceptive and will sense how you feel.

3. Children will generally be less fearful when they know what to expect. In the week or so leading up to starting, casually talk to your child about;

  • what he/she will be doing during their time at kindy,
  • the teachers,
  • the other children,
  • their uniform, lunch box and school bag.

4. Read picture books about starting school together (I will be sharing some of my favourites later this week) and take your child shopping for a new backpack or lunch box, as these types of interactions will help to create positive associations with going to school and a bridge between home and school.

5. If your child expresses fears or concerns about particular parts of the transition, talk through some practical solutions so that they feel more equipped for dealing with their concern (this is really for preschoolers and older children). For example, Immy and I have been talking through simple strategies for negotiating social situations, like asking the other child if she can have a turn when they are finished with a toy.  I have helped her by modelling the words to say, “Can you please pass it to me to have a turn when you are finished?,” and by role playing (as appropriate) when the two of us are playing together.

6. Be organised and allow time so you can start the day calmly.

7. Allow your child to take a small family photo to school with them. Or let them pick something special from your handbag to keep with them for the day. If you are familiar with the picture book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, you might like to make your own kissing hands necklace as described over at No Time For Flash Cards.

8. When it comes to drop off time;

  • Take advantage of the opportunity (if it is offered) to go into the classroom to settle your child to an activity.
  • When it is time to go, do not tell your child that you are leaving and then hang around as this has the potential to prolong the period of anxiety for your child.
  • Resist the urge to sneak away without saying goodbye.
  • Say goodbye and tell your child in a non-clock way when you will be back to pick him/her up (after you’ve had lunch/after rest time).
  • If your child is upset, leave them with a staff member who will be trained in a myriad of techniques for supporting them through their anxiety once you are gone.
  • Resist the urge to hover outside and peek through windows. If you are concerned (and it is appropriate), call the school or centre a short time later to ask if your child has settled.

9. Help your child to make connections with other children by inviting children that your child enjoys spending time with to play out-of-school hours.

10. For children experiencing tears and anxiety at drop off time, consider is it a general problem of anxiety at school or more the case of difficulty separating from Mum (or Dad)?  If separation from one parent is the problem then consider making short term arrangements for the other parent to assume drop off responsibility.  A short period with an alternative drop off person can work to break the anxiety cycle for some children.

11. Keep informed about classroom routines, events and happenings by reading any newsletters or other communication available. Use this information to talk to your child about the fun things they have been (or will be) doing in class.

12. Children need to attend regularly in order to have the opportunity to form the relationships necessary to help them overcome their separation anxiety. While it might seem easier to keep them home on occasion, this may also extend the amount of time a child takes to settle into the new environment.

Do you have any tips for easing separation anxiety to add to this list?

P.S.For those starting school or returning to school, don’t forget to enter the first of our school giveaways which will help you to get organised 🙂


  1. I was only thinking this morning as we drove past our local school that this would be Grace’s last year at home with me before she starts kindy. I’ll have to re-visit this fantastic post of yours when that time comes. I think point #2 is very important. From my teaching experience, I think it’s so important not to hang around after you’ve told your child it’s time for you to go, definitely makes the situation worse 🙂 Grace is in a similar situation to Immy – it’s just her and I each day, until we go to play dates at friends’ houses 🙂

  2. Narelle Rock says:

    Thankyou for this list, having a little girl starting in under 2 weeks, hopefully this will help her a lot, she is very shy and I can sense we are already going to have lots of tears, at least for the first week or 2 and then she should be ok

  3. When my daughter started preschool it took her about a month to settle in even following tips like these so do be patient. Also I’ve discovered when she starts school, returns to school after a break, or has any major transition it will affect her sleep (especially nap–now gone) for a while. Again, expecting this type of reaction can help you plan ahead and remain patient if it occurs.

    1. Thanks for the advice, Corinne, especially about impact on the sleep times and the reminder to be patient.

    1. Or even a BIG bit achy-breaky 🙂 Thank you for sharing such valuable advice with us.

  4. Thanks Christie…as always perfect timing!

    1. Thank you for saying so, Rachel. Good luck and don’t forget to enter the starting school giveaways this week 🙂

  5. Ahhh I hope it goes well for her (and you!)- I’m sure it will. I’ve still got another 18 months before I have to face this and it’s ME that’s going to have the biggest issues, I know it! Great post, very helpful thank you.

    1. Thanks, Anna. This hormonal mama is going to have one tough time of it, I am sure!

  6. my little girl has been going to daycare two days a week for two years, and still cries when I leave her. She’s starting school next Monday (we’re in Qld), and I know that she isn’t going to handle it well. We’ve been discussing routines, we’ve shopped for new shoes, organised uniforms and lunch boxes, written out routine cards, visited the school (and tomorrow we meet her teacher). Even having my nephew, who she has grown up with, in her class, may not be enough for her. I think I’m shopping for shrinky dinks tomorrow. thank you for a great post.

  7. We’re going to prek enrollment next week, although he won’t start until fall, these are great tips!

    1. Thanks, Jackie. Be sure to enter the starting school giveaways this week too 🙂

  8. Thanks for this post, my little girl is starting school in a couple of weeks also. She is so brave and adventurous, I am much more nervous than she is.

    1. I hope it goes really well for you, Jodie. You might like to enter the starting school giveaways this week too 🙂

  9. Great tips!

    My daughter started school at 4 yo, and she never cried at drop off, behaved in class, and didn’t cling to me when it was time to go. But she started behaving severe behavioral problems at home. She was holding it all in until she came home where she felt safe enough to let out her emotions. One of the strategies that worked for us is that I played with her as soon she came home from school, and I let her choose whatever she wants to play with me. This strategy helped tremendously and the major temper tantrums decreased.

  10. Thanks Christie, perfectly timed (as always) in our little home. The twinnies start school in a few weeks and these pointers are so relevant. I’m wondering, do you have any for the mumma who is already (quietly) shedding a tear or two at the thought of her little ladies entering the school gates for the first time?


    1. Hold it in until you get back to the car brave mama, that is what I will be doing! I hope it all goes well for you x

  11. Middle pinks starts this year too. After such a great experience with the first I’m seeing this time around is going to be different. She has been coming out of bed at night in tears because she’s worried about school. It’s not separation anxiety as she’s done really well at kinder. She’s more worried because she knows it’s everyday and it’s all unknown. (Totally not excited about the school uniform and books.) But this is just her personality. She takes a long time to warm up to new ideas. It took her about 3 months to go her our new puppies – but now she adores them. I’m sure it will be the same with school. (But mummy’s heart may break before she settles thou!) Thanks for the advice -been doing loads of talking about things. Every night she raises a new fear. (What if the teacher calls me when I”m out playing and I don’t hear and then get in trouble was last nights.)

    1. It can be so hard with sensitive children, I was a worrier too, so I know just how she feels. I think all you can do is continue to acknowledge her concerns and discuss strategies for dealing with situations she is worried about. Good luck x

  12. Thank you so much for this article!! I teach 3-year-old Kindergarten and the suggestions you offer are perfect!! I want all my parents to read this! 🙂

  13. We organised for Heidi to finish earlier for the first term of school last year. It meant she got used to going to school on a regular basis but would finish at lunch time and come home for a rest.

    This eased our separation anxiety issues as she is always more anxious when she is tired (as are most children) and the familiar routine soon had her going for full school days about 2/3 of the way into the term.

    I’m glad our Prep teacher was flexible and worked out with us the best routine for Heidi.

  14. We start kindy in a fortnight too. We could have a bit of anxiety from M1. He keeps saying he is not going! Oh dear. But we have been casually talking about it, we picked out his new backpack and have a “happy” stone (a little crystal from Freo markets) for him to keep in his pocket and hold when he is feeling sad or missing home. I also have been lucky enough to be able to take him to “Mummy’s school” (my work, an early childhood centre) over the last couple of weeks and he LOVES that so he got a chance to learn what will be expected of him. Number 10 is a helpful point and I will really look forward to your list of books later in the week, he loves books and any about starting school will help!

  15. I purchased a new APP for my doughter called LITTLE EXPLORER IN KINDERGARTEN. It`s terrific! Jessica can get prepared for going to kindergarten and have fun at the same time.

  16. Erika Schmidt says:

    I am not reluctant to send my daughter off to child care as I’m confident that I have chosen one of the best institutions in the country. And of course, I can heed these tips to make the transition problem-free for the both of us. What’s more, I found this guide that can help everyone prepare for the costs of child care.

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