Separation Anxiety: Helping The First Day Of Daycare Go Smoothly

baby crying at daycare

With so many more mothers in the workforce, the juggling act between children and career has never been so difficult. We want to be there for our children, but we have to be able to provide for them as well. Trying to assuage our own guilt for having to do what’s necessary, especially in these stressful times, it makes sense that we want to find the very best caregiver for our child. We want someone who will take care of them in our absence in the same way that we would so that we can do what we have to without feeling that our children are missing out on the affection and attention they need.

You know that the time is drawing near when you will have to put your child in some form of daycare so that you can go out and earn the money you need. Whatever the reason, you know the time is coming soon when you’ll experience your first real separation from your child. What you don’t know is how he’ll react.

You’ve heard the horror stories of children who scream and cry, throwing a fit when parents try and drop their children off at daycare. At the other end of the spectrum are the kids who walk into the daycare without even a backward glance, settling easily into this new routine.

What is the difference between these two reactions? Are they individual to each child or is it in the manner in which you prepare your child for this coming separation?

How to Smooth the Transition

Adair, a 21-year-old stay at home mom from Shamokin, PA suggests visiting the daycare well before the day comes when you’ll have to drop them off. “I insisted on interviewing daycares, and I brought my daughter along. I didn’t really do any preparing other than that for her. She did so well at this one place that, even though I was there, she wanted nothing to do with me, and I practically had to fight her to get her to leave.”


You could start months in advance by enlisting your relatives or friends' help for babysitting duty and dropping your child off with them for the day. The key is to get your child used to being without you.

You’ll need this extra prep time too because chances are the separation will be emotional for you too. You’ll worry that your child can’t function without you or that the daycare staff can’t possibly take care of your child and fulfill his needs the way you can. Certainly, while no one can deny your vital importance in your child’s life, rest assured that the staff are very well trained and equipped to cater to your child’s every need. The entire environment, from the décor to the toys and activities in the daycare is designed to make your child happy and comfortable.

When you find a daycare you may wish to ask if you can visit with your child for a day or two in advance so your child can feel at ease with both the environment and the staff. This way he won’t feel like you’re leaving him with strangers. Discuss any specific allergies or illness or emotional needs your child may have with the staff so they can be prepared in how to best look after your child.

Make sure to sound encouraging and excited when talking about daycare with your child. Emphasize all the fun things they can do there. Maybe you can read some books about daycare with your child. An example of a great children’s story about daycare is “See You Later, Alligator” by Laura McGee Kvasnosky.

When you’re at home, you could help your child become familiar with how daycare is going to go by adopting some of its structure at home. Schedule things like reading time and activity time throughout your day so that when the day comes, your child will recognize the routine of the daycare, and it won’t feel so new and frightening to him.

Becky, a 54-year-old former Daycare/Preschool Director from Miami, Florida offers these words of advice on how to handle the day itself, “I can't say that when my own children were small that I handled things well, but as a preschool director we always had the same advice for nervous parents." (Note: my children were well past this age when I discovered these tricks!)

babies on a playmat at daycare

Advice for A Great First Day

~ Smile and stay calm (you can cry when you get back to your car!)

~ Your child may cry and cling. Please, PLEASE resist the urge to give in when they beg to go home. It's only going to make tomorrow even more difficult, and it sends them the mixed signal that something really IS wrong with this place you're leaving them.

~ The teachers are well trained in how to handle your crying child. Once you get them in the door, hug them and tell them you love them. Wish them a good day, and reassure them that you will see them later. With that beautiful smile still firmly affixed to your face, calmly walk out the door and keep going.

It is my experience that the majority of the time, if your departure is handled in this manner, the child will stop crying in no time and become so absorbed in their new experiences that they will hardly miss you.

Your attitude goes a long way in how well your child adapts to school.”

Children are pretty unpredictable creatures and while you have no real idea how your child will react that first day of daycare, you can do your best to prepare both you and your child for this big first step towards their independence.