About separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is normal in early childhood and can occur when a child gets upset when separated from a parent or carer. This can happen when children are left with a new caregiver, or put to bed by themselves.

Separation anxiety is normal during early childhood. It usually starts at about six to eight months of age and lasts until about two and a half to four years of age. Sometimes it can last longer if the child has had any painful separations in the early years. Separation anxiety reflects the child’s attempts to hold on to what is safe in a very scary world, and it will settle down as the child grows older and more confident (Women’s and Children’s Health Network).

For more information on understanding and managing separation distress for both children and parents, read these factsheets by KidsMatter.

For more information on separation anxiety, including strategies to support young children through this normal stage of child development click here to view information from the Women’s and Children’s Health Network.

Settling into new environments

Attending an early-learning program such as long day care, pre-school or family day care is an important and exciting stage in a child’s development. They will have opportunities to interact with other children and educators, and benefit from a stimulating learning environment. Some children embrace this change with an enthusiasm that can leave parents feeling confident and comfortable, and perhaps even a little left out. Other children may feel afraid, upset or anxious. It may be the first time they have been in the care of adults who are not part of their family, or the environment could be noisy and crowded compared to being at home, making it all feel a bit too much. It is actually quite common for children to show some signs of discomfort when they first start in a new program. From about six months old, most children begin to show distress when they are away from their parents or carers, as they don’t yet have a separate sense of self, so can feel a part of them is missing. While this can be worrying for parents and carers, it is normal for children to find the transition to childcare upsetting and it is important to remember the distress is often short-lived.

For suggestions about you can do to help your child settle into the new environment click here.

Easing separation anxiety

It can be difficult to know what is normal, and what’s not for young children and separation anxiety. In early childhood, crying, tantrums, or clinginess are healthy reactions to separation, but anxiety can greatly vary from child to child.

Information for parents and caregivers on managing separation anxiety can be found by clicking here.

Quality-assured resources to purchase

The ECA Online Shop offers a variety of books and resources for parents that all been quality-assured by early childhood experts. Below are our recommendations for school transitions.

  • A short introduction to attachment and attachment disorders is a short and accessible introduction to what ‘attachment’ means, how you can recognise attachment disorders in children, and how you can help them. This book offers an explanation of how complex problems during childhood may have their roots in the parent-child relationship during the early years, and later from children’s involvement in the wider world.
  • Everyday Learning about managing change is a resource that outlines how parents can help children develop the skills to understand and deal with change at an early age. It will assist them when trying new things and managing the events of their life as they grow and confront new experiences and challenges.