Strategies for easing separation anxiety in young children–Redleaf Press Quick Guides

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Young children’s behavior can be challenging at times, but handling it doesn’t have to be.  

Today we’re looking at SEPARATION ANXIETY, excerpted from Behavioral Challenges in Early Childhood Settings by Connie Jo Smith, EdD (Redleaf Press Quick Guide).


  • A child cries and whines when a parent or guardian leaves her in your care.
  • A child reverts to behaviors of a younger child and refuses to participate or interact.


The immediate priority is to acknowledge the feelings the child is expressing, provide comfort, and transition her to an enjoyable activity.

Infants and Toddlers

  • Hold the infant and provide physical comfort while talking or singing soothingly. Show the infant something visually stimulating, such as bubbles, a mobile, or a toy.
  • Reach your arms out and offer to hold the toddler. If she does not want to be held, sit next to her.
  • Acknowledge her feelings and say something like “You look unhappy that your auntie left.”
  • Encourage her to look at a photograph of her loved one posted in the room or in a class picture album.
  • Reassure her that her loved one will come back and that while she waits, she can play. Offer a toy that the toddler has shown interest in previously or that a family member or guardian has informed you she likes.


  • Go to the preschooler who is distressed and sit near her. Acknowledge her feelings and invite her to talk about them. Say something like “You seem pretty upset that your dad had to go to work today. Can you tell me about it?” Let the child know her feelings are okay.
  • Ask if a hug or back rub might help her feel better. Provide that physical comfort if requested.
  • Reassure the child that her family member or guardian will come back. If you know when, show her on the clock or on a daily picture schedule.
  • Remind her about the photographs of her loved one on the wall, in a class album, or in her cubby that she can look at anytime.
  • Suggest an activity that the child has shown an interest in previously or that the family member or guardian has informed you she likes. Begin the activity with the child to redirect her.

DON’T encourage the family member or guardian to sneak off. Don’t take the child’s distress personally or as a sign that you are not a good teacher. Don’t tell the child that big girls and boys do not cry. Don’t tell her to stop crying. Don’t try to hold the child if she resists physical contact.


Infants and Toddlers 

  • Separation anxiety is not an issue for young infants, but it may begin to occur around six months.
  • The level of separation anxiety for infants and toddlers will vary. It may be influenced by many things, including the child’s temperament.
  • Older infants and toddlers can be redirected to activities within a few minutes of their loved ones’ departure.
  • While toddlers are increasingly interested in independence, they may have times of separation anxiety. They also lack the vocabulary to express their feelings about separation anxiety.


  • Some younger preschoolers may suffer from separation and stranger anxiety, but most have adjusted to temporary separations.
  • Older preschoolers who have not experienced separation anxiety for months may feel it renewed when changes occur in their lives, such as family illness, divorce, or a new baby in the family.
  • Preschoolers are curious and imaginative, which can sometimes lead to fears that adults consider unreasonable. To the child, however, these fears are real. New fears may cause separation anxiety to recur.
  • Preschoolers continue to develop and use language in more complex ways and are developing a better understanding of time, so a discussion about separation anxiety is possible.

Crying, clinging, and even tantrums are typical for children during separation anxiety, but the intensity may vary from child to child. The best solution for separation anxiety is to be prepared for the children’s arrivals and warmly welcome each child by name as she arrives. Address any anxiety in a sensitive way for the child and adult.

Observe: Recognize when individual children experience more separation anxiety so you can be better prepared to assist. Try to determine if the behavior follows patterns. Is it more likely on certain days of the week, or when the child arrives later or earlier in the day?

 Model: Offer positive greetings, say good-bye cheerfully, use language to express feelings, and become engaged in activities with children.


  • Encourage family members and guardians to allow enough time for a smooth, unrushed drop-off.
  • Provide continuity of care by having consistent teachers. Limit the number of adults to avoid overwhelming children.
  • Allow children to bring items from home that may help soothe and comfort them.
  • Include family photographs posted on the walls, in classroom photo albums, or in electronic picture frames that rotate images.
  • Play hide-and-seek with objects. Point out how each object is still there even when the child can’t see it. Play hide-and-seek with children who are old enough to understand the game.
  • Help families create a happy ritual for drop-off and pickup that their children can anticipate and practice. Rituals may be a saying, like “Love you oodles and boodles,” or blowing kisses as the adult leaves.

From “Behavioral Challenges in Early Childhood Settings” by Connie Jo Smith, published September 12, 2017 by Redleaf Press, a division of Think Small. Copyright © 2017 by Connie Jo Smith.

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Winning Ways: Partnering with Families

Product Code: 549994

“Gigi Schweikert has a straightforward way of making us look honestly at ourselves as early childhood professionals. She says it like it is and challenges us to see event the things we hoped no one would notice. The Winning Ways series compels us to examine the profound impact we have on everyone around us–children, certainly, as well as fellow professionals and the children’s parents and families. Everything matters. Everything. But the best thing is that Gigi believes in each of us, that we can change, and we can truly become the early childhood professionals the children need us to be. And that really matters.” –Bonnie Neugebauer, founder and executive editor, Exchange magazine

How Can You Make Welcoming Each Child and Family Easier?

If you know a child is enrolling, before the child arrives

  • assign a specific teacher to that family
  • introduce the parents to that teacher, other teachers, and all the school staff
  • send a “what to expect on the first day” note
  • make a label for the child’s coat hook or cubby
  • make a welcome sign with the child’s and parent’s first names and post it prominently

When the child begins

  • have extra teachers, if possible, so you can spend time helping the child and parents separate and adjust
  • speak to or call the parents to tell them how their child is doing

After the child begins

  • put a photograph of the child and parents on the cubby and elsewhere in the room
  • send a handwritten note asking the parents how things are going and extending an invitation to talk
  • make sure the parents are on the mailing or e-mail list to receive information about what’s happening in the school

Partnering with Families is a part of the Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals series. Learn more about the full series here on

This is an excerpt from Gigi Schweikert’s Partnering with Families, copyright Redleaf Press. 

Product Code: 549995

Product Code: 549996

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Collection Building: Essential STEM Resources

In the October 1st issue of Library Journal Catherine Lantz compiled an amazing list of resources to develop your library’s resources in STEM for teachers and students of all levels. Redleaf Press had THREE books included.

Recommended for Parents & Caregivers

Baby Steps to STEM

Teaching STEM Outdoors









Recommended for K—12 Educators

Teaching STEM Literacy










You can read Catherine’s full article “Ex-STEM-Poraneous” on Library Journal‘s website.

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Capturing Ladybug Moments: Inquiry in the Age of Google

“Capturing Ladybug Moments”
By Julie Smart, PhD

When my son was 3-years-old, he had one of his biggest temper tantrums ever in the parking lot of Krispy Kreme Donuts. It was one of those that draws a crowd…this was a toddler meltdown of epic proportions. It was only after I had managed to wrestle my son into his car seat, safely out of the crowded parking lot, that I finally realized what he was screaming. “Ladybug!!!! Ladybug, NOW!!!” As I stared down at my feet, still resting on the gritty asphalt below, I realized there was indeed a single ladybug crawling quietly across the pavement. All this ruckus for a ladybug?! You’ve got to be kidding me!

Ladybug!!! Ladybug, NOW!!!,” he continued to wail.

As my son continued to wail in the backseat, I decided I could deliver a ladybug if that’s what would quiet this chaos. I quickly unlocked my iPhone, quickly searched Google, and handed my son a screen filled with vivid images of ladybugs. Bam! Problem solved! Ladybugs for days. But, the wailing continued. And got even louder. “Ladybug!!! Ladybug, NOW!!!,” he continued to wail. Customers enjoying their “Hot N Now” donuts inside the restaurant stayed acutely tuned into the mini-drama unfolding outside as if to say, “What now momma? Next bright idea?” I decided the only logical thing to do was to give the kid what he wanted. I lowered by hand onto the ground and let the tiny bug crawl onto my finger, then lifted the red and black speckled peace offering to my son. His shrieks immediately turned to laugher as he reached for the ladybug and allowed it to walk around his little hands and arms before it flitted away out the window. His tear-stained face dissolved into a sweet smile as he nodded off from sheer exhaustion on the car ride home.

We try to offer them the most colorful images and videos to teach them about the world they live in, but it doesn’t satisfy like real, get-your-hands-dirty experiences.

This is such a poignant example of the world we live in today. We genuinely want our children to experience the world, but sometimes it’s just not safe enough. Not clean enough. Not enough time. We try to offer them the most colorful images and videos to teach them about the world they live in, but it doesn’t satisfy like real, get-your-hands-dirty experiences. As a mother, I am hypervigilant in protecting my children from every danger, both real and perceived, yet I am met with the challenge of allowing them to experience the world around them in an authentic way. Sometimes dangerous parking lots get in the way of ladybugs. What’s a parent to do?

Our brains are designed for discovery

Our brains are designed for discovery, for novel thought and for novel ideas. The human mind has been drawn to discovery since the beginning of time. The wheel. Fire. Electricity. Flight. All born out of not just necessity but out of curiosity, trial and error, successes and failures on the path to great innovations. The same curiosity that drove the discovery of the Americas, the Apollo missions, the discovery of the world through the generations, resides in the minds of our children. As an educator, I do a pretty good job of helping my students at school learn science in engaging ways and pour hours into developing lessons to help them experience the natural world in meaningful ways. But what about my own children? How often do I brush their questions aside and “Google” their curiosity away? We miss so many “ladybug moments” to the pace of our daily lives and schedules. The onus is on us to provide a space of discovery for our children. A space in their worlds where their questions are welcome and their curiosity nurtured.

We all know that children are great at asking questions . . . lots and lots of questions. When your child asks a question, sometimes the natural response is to provide the answer immediately. For some questions, this is the obvious and best choice. For example, a child asking “Is that a poisonous spider?” needs an immediate and decisive answer from a knowledgeable adult! However, when your child asks something such as, “Where did the rainbow come from?” consider one of the most effective tactics in getting a conversation started . . . answer a question with another question. Posing a question of your own to get a conversation going will help get your child talking about their ideas, which is one of the most critical steps in inquiry. A popular choice is simply, “What ideas do you have?” or “What do you think?”  Just listening to the ideas of children can be fascinating and provide great insight into how your children are thinking. We know that children come up with their own ideas about science as they experience the world. Sometimes those are accurate and sometimes they are very fantastical. When your child gives you a “far out” answer, you can follow up with a simple, “That’s an interesting idea! What makes you think that?” The first phase to exploring a new idea with your child is simply finding out what they already know and what ideas that have.

Latch onto your child’s natural curiosity about the world and to give them the space to explore their questions.

So, your child has asked a question about the world and you’ve had a short conversation about it. Now what? After your child expresses interest in a particular aspect of the world, they simply need a way to explore, a skill that comes quite naturally to children. The best part is that nothing fancy is required; it can be as easy as doing an activity at home (i.e. planting some seeds and watching them grow if your child asks where strawberries come from) or could involve a trip to a zoo, science center, or children’s museum. You don’t always have to have all the materials at home to help your children explore their questions about the world. The community around you is a resource brimming with possibilities. Latch onto your child’s natural curiosity about the world and to give them the space to explore their questions. They say that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but when we’re dealing with “ladybug moments,” looking a creepy-crawly critter in the eyes is priceless.*

*Hand sanitizer not included.

Julie Smart holds a PhD in curriculum and instruction and is currently a professor of math and science education at Clemson University. She is the author of Inspiring Young Minds: Scientific Inquiry in the Early Years (Redleaf Press). She is also a consultant in research methodology and program accreditation with a focus on inquiry-based instruction, teacher effectiveness, and classroom management.

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RLP Teachers’ Choice Award winners: Professional Development

Two Redleaf Press books receive 2018 Teacher’s Choice Awards in Professional Development!

Redleaf Press; $24.95

Team Teaching in Early Childhood: Leadership Tools for Reflective Practice by Uniit Carruyo

From the judges:

“Very user friendly . . . Being able to copy the reflection pages makes the book a real tool for team improvement.”

“I learned ways to give feedback in new and positive ways.”

“It gave me a better framework for what I know and believe about working as a team.

“I have applied this product in my classroom to help build better communication skills among my co-teachers, myself, and the families we serve.”

Redleaf Press; $34.95

Individualized Child-Focused Curriculum by Gaye Gronlund

From the judges:

“As a 25 year veteran teacher it is not often that I find a book that can teach me so much.”

“I was given amazing strategies to ensure that every child in my class experiences the same educational opportunities.”

“I appreciated many aspects of this product . . . well organized and easy to read . . . practical and easy to implement strategies for individualizing the curriculum . . . all of the forms . . . the examples that were given depicting various situations/problems in the classroom and how they were solved were extremely valuable.”

Learn more about these books, and all of Redleaf Press’ award-winning products at

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2 Redleaf Press books win Brain Child Award!

Congratulations to our winners!

Beyond the Flannel Board: Story-Retelling Across the Curriculum by M.SusanMcWilliams and Baby Steps to STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Activities by Jean G. Barbre both received the Brain Child Award from Tillywig Toy & Media Awards.


The feedback from the judges was extraordinary.

Marvelously fresh and insightful . . . Cover to cover, it’s an enjoyable, highly instructive read.

“This marvelously fresh and insightful book places story retelling front and center as an educational tool through which a host of essential skills can be promoted in young children: enhanced vocabulary, communication, and comprehension skills, improved conceptual thinking, social-emotional development, numbers, STEM skills, and more! The book is carefully structured in two parts, the first of which delves into key concepts and benefits of story retelling. Part 2 elaborates on how to implement story retelling with preschoolers and provides strategies with which teachers can easily integrate such activities into their everyday classroom routines. These two main sections are subdivided into four well-organized chapters apiece and loaded with real-world examples that make the material easy to absorb and apply. Cover to cover, it’s an enjoyable, highly instructive read that paves the way for teachers to help young students get the most out of the story retelling experience.

Baby Steps to STEM‘s high quality of writing and excellent organizational structure are a pleasure to behold . . . an indispensable resource every parent, teacher and caregiver should read.

Baby Steps to STEM is an extraordinarily well-written and accessible guidebook on how to provide children from birth to age three with learning experiences that form an optimal foundation for STEM learning. The first three chapters offer readers a concise yet remarkably expansive background on principles and concepts relating to early childhood learning and development. The balance of the book consists of 60 play-based, developmentally appropriate activities, each of which targets specific STEM learning and development opportunities. Each activity includes extensions, inquiry questions, and tips to help parents strengthen children’s learning at home, organized in an easy to absorb 2-page per activity format. Baby Steps to STEM‘s high quality of writing and excellent organizational structure are a pleasure to behold, while the insights and activities that grace page after page make it an indispensable resource every parent, teacher and caregiver should read.”

Learn more at
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4 Ways Care Providers Can Help Children Process Fears

Braving the Storm
By Dr. Jane Humphries and Kari Rains

The devastating hurricane Harvey has been in the forefront of our minds. It’s almost impossible to miss the news coverage of the horrible loss of life, homes, and community of our neighbors to the south in Texas. As Okie girls, we are familiar with the toll of natural disasters in our communities. Tornados are a staple of life in Oklahoma, we are constantly on alert during the spring months and know where the nearest underground shelter or hidey hole is in case we need to escape Mother Nature’s Wrath.

Driving home with her children after school, Kari had a discussion about the hurricane. Her youngest, Nate (9), has a real fear of weather and tornados. Their family experienced an extremely damaging tornado a few years ago and the footprints of that event were still on Nate’s brain. Nate anxiously asked about the hurricane and floods in Houston. It was evident that he was upset and needed more information and reassurance to process his feelings and fears.

“They labeled his fears and feelings, being scared, anxious, or worried.  Kari reminded him of all the good things that happened after the event”

The first thing they did when they got home was to leave the TV off. In a time of 24-hour news coverage, it’s hard to escape the pictures and stories of devastation for young children. Instead, Nate and Kari sat down and worked on a puzzle together. While hands were busy, they talked about the tornado that Nate remembers. They labeled his fears and feelings, being scared, anxious, or worried.  Kari reminded him of all the good things that happened after the event; community support, planting trees, and taking care of those who were displaced. The conversation then started to talk about the hurricane. While they continued to put the puzzle pieces together, they made a list of things that people who lost their homes to a flood or hurricane damage might need.  They also thought about what kinds of people are coming from all over the world to help the people in Texas-firefighters, policemen, disaster relief, doctors and nurses. Nate hoped that some veterinarians would also volunteer to help the animals that were in need. As they finished the puzzle, Kari reminded Nate that he is safe. That the helpers and workers in Texas are helping to make people safe. This weekend they plan to collect some toys to send to the children and Nate will help shop for them. Kari’s hope is that he will feel some control and a sense of helpfulness that he is not feeling right now.

“This could be a tolerable or toxic stress event”

This event is a time of disruptive change for children.  One, that for some, will hopefully only be a few weeks while their family becomes re-established like Nate experienced.  Other’s lives will be turned upside down.  Either way this could be a tolerable, or toxic stress event.  Tolerable means that the child’s body alert systems are high but with time and a buffer of supportive adults, they can navigate this stress like Kari’s son has had to do.  For those children already living in toxic environments, their lives will spiral.  In the days and weeks to come, those working in early childhood environments must carefully observe and make appropriate referrals to resources within the community. And, most importantly, take the time to be with those children who are openly struggling.

Early childhood educators are crucial to the healing process.  The ideas Kari used with Nate are all applicable to those working in the classroom.

If children in your care are struggling to process feelings and fears during this time, here are a few ideas that might help.

  1. VALIDATE FEARS—Blowing off or not acknowledging fear can be counterproductive to processing feelings and fears.
  2. HELP OUT—Collect clothes or household items to send to disaster relief, make a donation to a charitable organization helping with recovery and rebuilding. Involve the children in your program in the decision and process.
  3. REMIND CHILDREN THEY’RE SAFE—Whether it talking about the ways they are safe at home, school, or other places, or having a safe space specifically for talking about their fears, a consistent reminder that children are safe can be effective in getting through tough times.
  4. TURN OFF THE TV—Watching the news might be a need, but limit the amount of time children spend watching coverage of the disaster and avoid open discussions in front of the children. If they are watching news that is upsetting, point out positive things you see, the people helping, police and fire fighters, note the good that is taking place.

Dr. Jane Humphries has decades of experience in early childhood education, including being a child care director of a program directly impacted by the Oklahoma City bombing. She holds a masters degree in early childhood education and a doctoral degree in occupational and adult education from Oklahoma State University. Humphries is also a consultant specializing in professional development programs and develops products for children requiring sensory stimulation to calm themselves.

Kari Rains holds a masters degree in child development from Oklahoma State University and has over a decade of clinical work in the early intervention program in Oklahoma. She has served as an adjunct professor, published two books, and contributed to numerous research articles in the field of child development.

Learn more about Dr. Humphries and Kari Rain’s book A Fighting Chance: Supporting Young Children During Disruptive Change on

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