We are doing a daycare transition currently. My LO is 15 months old next week. I spent all AM and lunch there with her yesterday and today. It's a family based homecare and I've only heard very positive things so I'm not worried about the family or that anything bad happened while I'm gone.

So this morning I brought my LO to the group and felt things were well, she was playing with toys and happy to be there, so I decided to try a short 30 minutes separation. I went for a walk then hung in my car parked across the street. It was about 20 minutes or so when I started hearing her crying very loudly all the way outside. I waited a few minutes, hoping I could rejoin the group after she stops so she doesn't associate crying means mom comes back.

She seemed fairly distressed about the staircase. The teacher said her son came downstairs and forgot to close the gate. My LO is a climber and she wanted to go there when the teacher locked the gate. My thoughts are that when my LO saw the teachers' son, it was a new face and she probably noticed I was gone, then might have wanted to use the staircase to find me and was kept from it.

Her distress about the staircase went on and off for the remaining hour or so. It seemed to be better after lunch but I am wondering if we go back tomorrow, should I tend on avoiding the staircase a bit or having her face it but reassure her? What signs should I watch for?

  • I'm not sure I've heard of a strong habit being made in one non-violent exposure. How do you set limits on her roaming in other contexts? Have you talked with her? At 15 months she might understand some stuff just by being told by someone she trusts using words she knows.
    – user26011
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:18
  • @notstoreboughtdirt She is not super limited at home, but I do lock the gate right in front of her fairly often. She gets frustrated but not distressed like this. My feeling is that she might have been intending on coming to find me which might have made things a lot worse than the simple locking of the gate. It will be easier to see tomorrow if she still remembers the staircase. My own anxiety of doing the transition is certainly not helping my overthinking!
    – curious
    Jul 5, 2017 at 18:26
  • Another I thought of later in the day is that her son shares some features with my DH. They don't look the same but both about same height, dark short hair and glasses. So possibly she got confused with her dad and wanted to follow, not sure!
    – curious
    Jul 6, 2017 at 1:20
  • Sure enough, no big deal was made of the stairs today. I left for 30 minutes while they were outside in the grass and she couldn't go more than 15 minutes playing then 10 minutes of crying so I went back to settle her. Later in the day, she was ok being on her own at home indoors but seemed to get scared when I put her down in the grass. So my guess is it might linger for a while and then the next day she's fine.
    – curious
    Jul 7, 2017 at 2:20

2 Answers 2


Well at this age separation anxiety is rather high & nothing to be unduly concerned about , regardless of how hard it is to get through.

If the care provider allows it, perhaps just videotape what is happening after you leave. My children all were like this at this age, the ones that I worked since 6 weeks old and the one I was home with all the time. I think it's the age & temperament (as to severity) versus anything else. The video recording assured me that the drama that happened after I left was short lived, the child received kind supportive treatment after I left & all was well after they were able to move in. Sometimes I think too slow a transition can be like a slow peeling on a bandaid & may in fact lengthen the difficulty & struggle, even though a fast rip is a bit harder to deal with in the moment. I am a bandaid ripper. I much prefer the sharp harsh pain that is over quickly than the slow agony that can be dragged out.

I really wouldn't worry about the stairs at all. Children get upset, angry, nervous & all sorts of things surrounding being gated in, gated out, etc. There is really no way to absolutely know in a child this young what the distress is. I can say for certain though that the child will get beyond it & in my experience that is something they have to do, like learning to walk, not something you can actually teach.

I have also done care for many kids in my life. I can tell you that to date I have never met a child that has struggle with the transition to my care as much as the mother has. I have had a lot that were straight from a stay at home mom. It takes a lot of cuddles & extra attention, but they come around & do well. I would tell you not to worry, but I am a mother too & I know that is no use. We worry as we will anyway.


I don't think you need to worry about negative associations. Children this young tend to live in the moment, Their quick to be upset but just as quick to forgive and forget. Your daughter has likely already forgotten about the staircase or being upset. I doubt she has made any negative associations that need to be broken.

In fact I would say trying to hard to break an association right now would only be drawing attention to the stairs, telling her she should be associating 'something' with them if mom makes a big deal about them.

Your right she probably did realize you were gone and was upset over it, that is normal and acceptable. Separation anxiety can be strong when a child is first weaned from their parent.

However, as I said kids live in the moment. As upset and distraught as a child can be when their parent first leaves, with care and loving attention from the staff they will cope with it, and then return to playing. With a good staff usually a child will be comforted and their crying will die down within 10-20 minutes even for first time separation, and afterwards the child will go back to having fun until their parent returns.

As someone who has done daycare quite a bit I'll say the honest truth is there isn't any great way to make this easier for your child. Honestly the best thing you can do is make sure their in good hands and then leave. Yes eventually the child will learn your gone and be upset for awhile, but they need to learn that it's okay. That nothing bad will happen while your done, and that eventually your come back. After a few days of this they tend to get the message and become better about seperation. After that they may cry right when you leave, though that's more in the hopes they can manipulate you into staying then real anxiety, but generally their go back to playing almost as soon as your gone.

As anyone who has done childcare will tell you though, it's best to leave for good. Trying to slowly ease them into separation, by doing small breaks and coming back or slipping away until they cry, doesn't really work. As you already said, the lesson the kids take away is often if they cry long enough their parent will come back, and even if they don't learn that the constant coming and going causes kids to pay more attention to the presence, or absence, of their parents. It can be hard, but it's best to leave for good and let them learn that things really will be okay without you, that they can even play and have fun while your gone.

There was one little girl, Autumn, that I still fondly remember years later with the worst apparent separation anxiety ever. She would ball her eyes out whenever her parents left, you would think she was dying. No one would guess that she actually loved being there with us, she was a real extrovert at heart and enjoyed her chance to be with other kids her age. I'd take her and shoo her parents away while she acted distraught, then the moment her parent's were out of site I'd do something to distract her for a second from her crying and the moment she stopped she would remember she was in a classroom full of toys and kids and go around having a great time. Her parents thought I was a miracle worker for getting her to switch from crying to playing so fast, but the truth is most kids just don't know how to handle the act of separation itself, as soon as it's over their ready to move on and start playing.

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