Q&A: separation anxiety at daycare

A reader who didn't leave a name writes:

"I run a family daycare in my home and I have some children who adjust very well and others who come into daycare well some days and other days they seem very upset to be here. What can I do to help? And what can I tell the parents so they don't worry and they can help? Their children are always fine once they leave and they never want to go home when its time to leave."

What you can do is provide steady, reliable care for the kids. A regular routine in a calm and relaxing environment that allows them to have fun and learn and play. It sounds like you're doing that.

If an adult comes into work in a pissy mood, no one is surprised by it. People have bad days. They don't sleep well, or they feel rushed in the morning, or they had a fight with their partner the night before, or they heard something on the news that they didn't like, or the barometric pressure makes them cranky. Feeling bad is just as much a part of the human experience as feeling good is.

Kids are the same. They can be upset about any number of things, real or perceived. But they can't or don't know how to tell us about it. So they only way they can express their fear or anger or crankiness is by crying and throwing tantrums. And they'll throw those tantrums at the point of most tension in the morning--the drop-off.

So maybe you can help the parents to understand that the kids are probably not upset about going to daycare, but instead are using this time to vent about whatever else is bugging them.

If you and the parents notice that a child gets upset in a pattern that you can recognize (every Monday, for example, or the morning after a parent leaves on a business trip), you can work on trying to come up with ways to help the child deal with those events so drop-off isn't so stressful. Maybe the parents could do a special breakfast in the morning, or a massage before bed to release tension, or something like that. You might want to do circle time first thing in the morning to let the kids talk about what happened the night before, if they're old enough to talk. I'm betting that you and the parents together can come up with ways to help the kids release their feelings.

If the children are happy and don't want to leave at the end of the day, you must be doing a wonderful job. The parents are fortunate to have you as a partner in caring for their children.