Don't let your child see your tears, as it will only frighten her.

How to Calm a Toddler if He Is Afraid of Day Care

by Julie Christensen

Separation anxiety rears its ugly head for most kids between the ages of 10 months and 2 years, which is when they often start day care. If dropping your toddler off at day care triggers meltdown mode for the both of you, keep a few things in mind: First, a toddler who clings to your legs is a good thing. It shows that he loves you, trusts you and wants to be with no one else in the world more than you. Congratulate yourself because you've done a good job nurturing a close, trusting relationship. Second, remember that not all kids are the same. Some kids are little social butterflies right from the get go, while others are more shy and reluctant to accept new people and situations; it's just part of their innate personalities. So don't think it's something you did or didn't do. Acknowledge your little one's fears -- and give him time to adapt. Within a few weeks, he'll probably race off to join his friends without a backward glance.

Do your homework. Don't choose "Little Ducky Day Care" because your child loves ducks or because it's the closest day care center to your home. Research to find the best-quality day care you can afford. Check references and visit the facility during the day to observe how it's maintained and how teachers interact with children. You want to see happy campers. You also want to see how they handle or avert a tantrum or bullying. Trust your intuition. No matter the school's credentials, if it doesn't feel right to you, walk away.

Prepare your little one ahead of time for day care. Take him to visit the school and meet the teacher. Make a fuss about how nice it is and how much fun he's going to have. Stay upbeat and positive. Comments such as, "I'll miss you while you're at day care, but I know you're going to have fun" reassure your child that everything's going to be okay.

Walk your child to class, remaining calm. Help her child find an activity, such as a puzzle or a book. Don't linger, though. Kiss your child, say goodbye and leave. Do not, under any circumstances, sneak out. Parents often do this to avoid a confrontation or tears, but this approach almost always backfires. When your child realizes you're gone, she'll feel betrayed and scared.

Talk with your day care provider about calming strategies for your child. Some children take a family photo, special blanket or stuffed toy to school for comfort. Other children may need a shortened schedule for a while as they adjust.

Communicate with the teachers and ask questions when you have them. Drop in at various times of the day to get a sense of your child's experience firsthand.

Arrive promptly to pick up your child. Watching all the other children leave while waiting for you to arrive will ramp up your child's anxieties. Keep a consistent after-school routine. Spend extra time playing with your child or reading books together.


  • Large day care centers can seem very intimidating to a toddler. Consider a smaller, family-run day care or a nanny instead. Screen any potential providers just as you would a large day care center.
  • Talk with your pediatrician if your child continues to struggle after several week. Consider looking for a new day care situation if you suspect your child's needs aren't being met.
  • Make sure your child eats a good breakfast and is well-rested. Try to keep the morning routine as calm and organized as possible to reduce meltdowns at day care.

About the Author

Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."

Photo Credits

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