The leg-grabber, the screamer, the breath-holder... whatever your child’s separation anxiety personality is, you know what we’re talking about.

Separation is rough on toddlers and their parents, but it’s also perfectly normal and even a good thing in some ways. Your toddler doesn’t want you to leave because they trust you to take care of them. They recognize the special bond between you. That’s pretty incredible, right?

But we realize that’s little comfort in the moment, when you’re trying to get out the door amidst the tears and fears of your little one. If you’re looking for strategies to manage separation anxiety in your toddler (and maybe even yourself!) try these out the next time you need to leave the house alone.

👉 Curb your own anxiety

No doubt you have conflicting feelings about leaving your toddler with another caregiver, however briefly, but give yourself a little break on it. All parents face this at one point or another, so let any guilt you’re feeling go. I mean it. Right now.

It’s not just for your own sake; your toddler is probably more attuned to your feelings than you realize. If they sense that you (the source of all stability and safety in their life) are anxious about parting, naturally they’re going to feel anxious, too.

👉 Don’t drag transitions out

The moment of truth is always hard, when you’re walking away and they’re not. It may be harder for you to leave them sniffling in your wake, but for them, dragging out the goodbyes makes this whole thing even harder.

If they see that crying makes you hesitate, they’re not going to stop! As hard as it is, make sure they understand that they are safe and then rip off the band-aid. When they see you coming back later on, just like you promised, it will be a serious lightbulb moment for them.

👉 Meet those basic needs

Things that are difficult are always more difficult on an empty stomach. Make sure they’ve got all their basic needs met to handle this stressful situation, like a full belly and a good night’s sleep.

That also means their emotional state. Yes, they will probably catapult off the edge of reason when they realize you’re about to go somewhere, but you can honor their feelings without giving in to their demands.

“It’s okay to be sad. You are safe with [Grandma, your babysitter]. I love you and I will see you [after your nap, at dinner, in three sleeps].”

Repeat it as many times as you need to on your way out the door. Then go cry in your car for a minute if you need to. We’ve all been there.

👉 Be consistent, even if it’s hard

Don’t add confusion to your toddler’s list of out-of-control emotions during this time. Stick to the plan, even though it’s bound to be challenging. Remember: what’s easier for you now is not necessarily what is best for your toddler in the long run. Set expectations, establish a routine as much as possible, and follow through.

A lot of your toddler’s separation anxiety is rooted in the unknown. I won’t lie to you, when they start understanding what to expect it does get harder (“Oh no, the doorbell rang! Dad must be about to leave...I better grab his leg!”) but then, out of nowhere, it gets much, much easier. (“Oh, did Dad leave? Whatever. He always comes back.”)

👉 ...but expect things to change

Separation anxiety isn’t one-size-fits-all. Your toddler may go through multiple phases of separation anxiety. They may have days where it’s a lot more challenging for seemingly no reason at all. If you feel in your gut that today is just a bad day to leave them, follow your intuition.

Separation anxiety may also vary from sibling to sibling. Younger siblings may breeze through this phase, taking their cue from confident older siblings who passed through it years ago. Or, the baby of a family of seven might take it harder than anyone ever predicted.

👉 Practice, practice, practice

The best way to help your toddler feel comfortable with brief separations is to let them practice. Give them opportunities to play alone so they don’t look to you for every little thing. If they’re playing happily just after waking up, don’t rush in! Give them a few minutes.

Beyond that, find time for a dry run. Practice waving goodbye and closing the door of their room. Then knock on the door, say, “I’m home!” and have them open it to let you back in.

If you stand firm, your toddler may surprise you. The transition could be easier than you expected! But above all, trust yourself. If your child’s separation anxiety seems extreme, don’t be afraid to consult your pediatrician or reevaluate your current caregiver.