Family life

Ask Sarah: How to Help with Separation Anxiety

Parenting expert Sarah Rosensweet shares strategies to help your little one manage separation anxiety during school drop-off.

Ask Sarah: How to Help with Separation Anxiety


Struggling with tantrums, bedtime boundaries, or simply wondering how to raise happy, confident kids? Sarah Rosensweet offers peaceful parenting advice to help families find balance.

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Q. My 4-year-old daughter has reoccurring separation anxiety episodes at her school during drop-off. One week she will go in willingly and with a smile, and the next, I have to peel her out of the car seat and carry her in. It doesn’t seem like anything is triggering the anxiety, and eventually, it goes away, but I don’t know how to help her.

-Mom of 4-year-old-daughter

mother standing outside with daughter in front of the school bus, daughter looking concerned iStock

A: This is normal behaviour for a 4-year-old. I’d start by keeping a log and seeing if you can detect any pattern in her mood shifts. Perhaps you’ll notice things that will help you troubleshoot the more challenging days for her.

If not, here is some general advice for when kids find it hard to say goodbye.

Normalize the difficulty of saying goodbye while being confident your daughter can handle it

Lynn Lyons, anxiety specialist, teaches that we must talk to kids about “the moment of goodbye.”


Talk to your daughter about how of course, it’s hard to say goodbye. I used to tell my daughter, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if we weren’t sad to say goodbye to each other? Of course, it’s hard- we love each other so much. You can do this, kiddo.” The idea is to normalize the difficulty of the moment of goodbye while conveying to your daughter that it’s both hard and something that she can handle.

Focus on when you are together again

Deborah MacNamara, author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers, suggests we “bridge” the daytime separation. So, instead of getting your daughter excited about what she will do while she’s at school (and away from you), you rather talk to her about what you’ll do when you’re together again. “When I pick you up at 4, we will go to the park for a bit before we go home. I can’t wait to see you again after school.”

Remember that you set the tone

If you are worried about her being sad, you’ll likely make things harder for her. If you’re confident she can handle it, you’ll help her feel more confident.

Finally, make sure there is someone at school she likes and trusts who can support her if she’s sad when you leave. It’s okay for kids to be sad. It’s not ideal for them to feel alone in their sadness.

Need support with other parenting challenges? Our Ask Sarah series covers topics like how to help with anxiety and build confidence, how to banish food battles and how to stop sibling fights.



Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and her 15 and 18-year-old kids. Her 22-year-old son has launched.

Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to “we’ve got this!”

Sarah offers a free course, How To Stop Yelling At Your Kids, so that you can be the parent you want to be. Read more at:  or listen to her top-rated parenting podcast, The Peaceful Parenting Podcast, wherever you get your podcasts!

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