Babysitting a Child with Separation Anxiety

Is there anything more challenging than trying to calm a screaming child while their parents are leaving? The parent is stressed and feels guilty, the child is scared, and the sitter can often feel helpless and unsure of how to support the child. Separation anxiety can be so hard for families (and sitters) to endure. Thankfully, separation anxiety is usually temporary, and there are ways to help a child who is struggling with this challenge!

What are the Signs of Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety in children can present in a number of ways, such as:

- Fear of being left alone (even in a different room)

- Worry when the parents leave them with a caregiver (clinging to the parent, crying, etc). The worry or fear can present even worse when the babysitter is new to the family

- Repeated nightmares involving separation from the family

- Refusal to sleep alone

- Fear over something happening to themselves or their parents

What Ages Do Children Experience Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is very normal for children, especially between the ages of 1-3 years old. Part of a child’s normal development is learning that when someone leaves, it’s not for forever. Younger children or especially babies can be fearful when parents leave their sight. The good news is that children often outgrow separation anxiety by age 3 and both parents and sitters can provide the support the child needs to work through this challenging phase.

How to Help a Child with Separation Anxiety


Both parents and sitters can work together to help the child work through their separation anxiety. Before a babysitting session, parents can give lots of cuddles to the child and explain to them (if they’re old enough to understand) that someone will be coming to care for them soon. If there is a picture of the babysitter available, share this with the child and share their name and what they will be doing (ie coloring, crafts, hide and seek, etc).

As a parent, creating a “goodbye routine” to prepare the child for the separation can be helpful. You can cuddle and sing, read a book, give a hug and kiss, or even make up your own special wave to each other. Find a method that works and be sure to stick to that method, even on the hard days! If your child does cry when you leave, don’t prolong your departure, as this can make matters worse. Stay calm, say your goodbyes, tell them you love them, and then leave them with the sitter. With consistency and time, your efforts will pay off!

If you’re booking childcare through Otter, we can work with you and the sitter to book an Intro Session (2 hours) where the child can get to know the sitter, and the sitter can get to know you and your family, all while you’re still home. This can be super helpful to build trust between the child and sitter when it is time for you to leave the house.


Babysitters can help make the transition easier too - when caring for a new family, asking the parents about the child’s established routine can help you prepare in advance. Sticking to the baby’s established routine for feeding, soothing, and napping can help them feel secure.

When the time comes for you to care for the child, it is always helpful to touch base with the parent before they leave. Ask what the child’s favorite toy or activity is and take cues from the child - if they are hiding and acting afraid, getting down on their level and staying nearby without forcing them to come to you can help them feel curious and not intimidated.

Sitting on the floor and starting to play with their favorite toy (or starting the activity) can peak the child’s interest and distract them enough to come over and start playing. If the child wants to be held and is sad, holding them and singing or reading a book can also help, as well as reassuring them that their parents will be coming home soon if they mention that they miss them. You can also walk around with the child and look at photos on the wall or look outside and share what you see. When in doubt, cheerful distractions can be super helpful in this situation!

Be sure to keep communication open with the parents as well. Sitters can text parents when an issue comes up or if they need advice on what may calm the child down. In addition, texting the parents when the child is happy and playing can help them relax and enjoy their time out without worrying about their child.

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