Dealing with separation anxiety: How to keep the nursery drop-off tear-free

The beginning of the year sees lots of children starting nursery for the first time.

Although this first day marks an exciting milestone, it can sometimes be a challenging step – even more for parents than children! It’s completely normal to feel nervous about dropping your child off for the first time, worrying that your child will feel abandoned or sad without you.


Here are some tips to help you support each other.


Be consistent and persevere

Many children don’t immediately feel comfortable in the nursery and it can be tempting to take them outside for a ‘breather’. Although this feels like the natural thing to do, it actually denies your child the opportunity to learn how to overcome difficult emotions and face challenges.

Consistency is key when introducing nursery into your child’s routine. At LEYF nurseries all children experience a settling in period before joining the nursery, and simply going together regularly is a great start.

Keep the goodbyes short and sweet (and dry-eyed, if possible!); let your child know what to expect from the day and try to let them form a relationship with the staff whilst maintaining contact from a distance. Don’t prolong your departure when the time comes to leave and when you return at the end of the day reinforce that you’ve come back just like you promised.


Work with staff

LEYF prides itself on its warm, caring and experienced staff who are skilled at anticipating and understanding children’s needs. Each family is different, and it’s important to help the nursery staff by talking to them about your child’s likes, dislikes and needs.

After all, you know your child best.

In the first few days of settling in, let the nursery team know as much as possible about life at home (eating, sleeping and toileting patterns) and about your child’s interests. This helps ease the transition into nursery life, and you’ll feel reassured that the nursery staff are well equipped with the knowledge they need to give your child the best experience.


All our nurseries have a keyworker system in place, and parents will meet their child’s new keyworker during the settling in period. It’s also helpful to share the techniques you use to calm your little one down when they are upset or anxious, and it’s of course vital that you inform staff of any medical issues such as food allergies or other reactions.


Leave them with a comfort object

Bringing a favourite toy or item (books, blankies, or even a sippy cup) from home can help reassure your child and make them feel more comfortable. Children always seek out comfort from familiar things when they feel a little upset.

Our nurseries run lots of projects to support children during their settling in period, for example the baby room staff in our New Cross nursery ask parents to send in family photos. This has been hugely successful and it’s great to see the big smile this can put on a child’s face!


Keep goodbyes short

Slipping away while your child is otherwise occupied might seem like the best thing to do to avoid any tears or tantrums, but your child might feel more worried if you suddenly disappear. Over the course of the settling in period, LEYF nurseries slowly reduce the number of hours you spend in the setting with your child until they’ve developed good attachments with the nursery team and spent time with the other children.

It can help to develop a goodbye ritual (a special hug or phrase), and once it’s over head out the door quickly so your child doesn’t become preoccupied with your presence. There is always a range of fun activities on offer in the nursery for your child to become immersed in.


Remember all children adjust in their own way

Rather than telling your child to be more like other children who don’t cry when their grownups leave, make sure you praise their progress at every step of the transition. Remember that each child is unique and they all deal with things in their different ways; there is no right or wrong way for them to behave during this time.


Resist surprise visits

Try and resist the temptation to check up on your child after you’ve left. Whilst the nursery will always be happy to hear from you, phoning throughout the day or dropping back in to visit isn’t always productive.

The sooner your child gets used to being at nursery with the team and their new friends, the happier they will be.

The best way to reassure yourself is to form a trusting relationship with the nursery staff, and have confidence in your own decision that this is the right place for your child.


Positive thinking

Come up with a mantra such as ‘this is a great place for (your child)’ and repeat it whenever you need to. Children really do pick up on your mood, so try and put any nerves or anxiety to one side when you drop them off to avoid them taking on these emotions too.

When collecting your child give lots of hugs and positive comments about what they might have been engaged in throughout the day, try to keep any negative phrases to a minimum e.g. ‘did you cry today?’ as this automatically focuses on the negatives.

Remain calm and upbeat – even if you really don’t feel like it! Take one day at a time and before you know it your child will be reluctant to leave the nursery at the end of each day.

Are you getting ready to send your child off the nursery for the first time? LEYF has spaces available for children from 0 – 5 years in their 36 nurseries across London, and our nurturing and friendly staff would love to help you with this next step. Find out more at

About London Early Years Foundation

The London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) are the UK’s largest childcare social enterprise with 38 nurseries across London, 15 of which have been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. LEYF provides award winning care and education to children under 5 and were recently named ‘Nursery Group of the Year 2015’ by Nursery Management Today. They write regularly, sharing tips and advice on all things early years and child development from their expert nursery staff.

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