Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar….
You put your baby down, walk out of the room and she begins to cry the second you are out of sight. Everyone in the room begins to make comments such as, “Wow! She’s got you trained” or “That’s not good” or “You better work on that”.
It feels like no matter what you do, your baby is going to never let you leave their sight.
Rest assured! This is a normal part of development called Separation Anxiety. It’s a milestone that is sure to cause some concern for any parent!
Why does this happen?
As your baby grows, she begins to develop a sense of object permanence. This means that she knows that people and things still exist even if they are not in her view. As she goes through the process of understanding this, the concept of time doesn’t necessarily follow as quickly. Therefore, your baby doesn’t know when you’ll be back. She knows your gone and that you still exist but has no idea when you’ll be back. This unknown is stressful and triggers her anxiety.
What age does this usually occur?
Separation anxiety usually starts around 7 months and peaks between 10 and 18 months. Most children grow out of it by age 3.
Is it normal?
Yes! It is a normal and healthy milestone that most babies experience, even if it’s a mild case. Your baby has formed an attachment to you, and they don’t want you anywhere but next to them.
What are the signs of separation anxiety?
-Needing parent close by to go to sleep
-crying when parent leaves the room
-crying when put down and then stops as soon as they are picked back up
For toddlers and older:
-excessive clinginess, at home and outside of the house
-distressed when not at home or with parents
-frequent complaints of stomachache, headache, or other physical pains in the time prior to a parent leaving
-panic attacks when parent is not present
How can you help your child cope with separation anxiety?
For babies, you want to continue practicing leaving and coming back after short intervals so that they can see you will return:
-Play peekaboo: You can do this with yourself or with an object to help illustrate that separation is not permanent.
-Tell your baby that you’ll be back when you leave the room, then come back.
-Allow baby to crawl to other rooms on their own and be by themselves for a few moments (if they are safe, of course)
-Do not have someone distract your baby and sneak out while they aren’t paying attention
-Plan your time away when baby is well rested and fed
-Use security items with your scent to help them feel close to you when you aren’t there.
-Ease into another person/family member/ caregiver holding them. Instead of allowing someone to take baby out of your arms right away, hold your baby until they are more comfortable before passing them off.
For older children, it’s important to mean what you say and say what you mean. This will help develop their trust and security while easing their separation anxiety:
-Give them at least 10-15 minutes of distraction free, one on one time each day. No phones or tablets or TVs. Just you and your child.
-Don’t sneak out! Instead, let them know when you are leaving, how long you are leaving for and what they can do in your absence (ie: color mommy a picture, build mommy a castle with blocks, or make a heart out of play-do)
-Give them security items. You could designate a special teddy bear or t shirt of yours that they can hold onto when you aren’t there.
-Validate their feelings. Being impatient with them for having these uneasy feelings about you leaving may make things worse. Try to let them know that you understand why they’re upset and it’s ok to feel the way that they do.
Separation anxiety is not easy for anyone involved! The important thing is to have as much patience as you can with your little one during this phase. This should fade as they get older and by practicing the tips above, you’ll begin to feel progress!
Hang in there! You are not alone!