Separation anxiety is a normal part of development. Despite it being common, there are many things you can do to help your baby through separation anxiety.
When separation anxiety pops up in your baby, you will likely be left with a lot of anxiety yourself. You wonder what caused the separation anxiety, how do you know if your baby truly has separation anxiety, and how you can help your baby with separation anxiety.
Something to remember during separation anxiety is that it is a normal part of development. Some babies respond more strongly than others, but it is all normal. This is a time when your baby is developing object permanence awareness and learning what that means.
Separation Anxiety Ages
Hogg states that between seven and nine months old, children experience normal separation anxiety. The child has an improved memory but her brain is not mature enough to know that when mom leaves, she will return. Hogg states that handled correctly, separation anxiety goes away within a month or two.
The Wonder Weeks states that separation anxiety peaks at 29 weeks old for most babies.
Some common ages for separation anxiety are:
- 6-7 months
- 9-10 months (this is especially more common with a less-consistent daily routine)
- 13-14 months
In The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, Tracy Hogg discusses separation anxiety.You can read all about Hogg’s advice for separation anxiety on pages 80-83 of The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems.
Factors That Prolong Separation Anxiety
For those with extreme separation anxiety, you have no question if it is separation anxiety. You know it. If your baby is whining when you leave the room or suddenly having problems with naps or nighttime sleep, she might be starting separation anxiety. Your little one will be more clingy. The parent can affect how long and how intense it is.
You may wonder how you know if it is really separation anxiety or something else. If it is separation anxiety, your baby will likely calm quickly once picked up. If your baby continues on even when picked up by you, it might be something else.
Here are some causes of separation anxiety:
- Normal development. Some separation anxiety is definitely developmentally normal and a normal part of baby development
- Overattentive parents
- Hovering parents
- Not allowing baby to become frustrated
- Baby doesn’t know how to soothe himself
- Baby doesn’t know how to play independently
- Parents respond too quickly to cries. They are fretful in reassuring baby, thus reinforcing fears
- Sneaking away to avoid a tearful goodbye
Strategies That Improve (or Shorten) Separation Anxiety
Naturally, you are asking yourself how you can help with separation anxiety. While some of it just needs time, there are definitely things you can do to shorten or lessen the intensity of separation anxiety.
- Comfort child with hugs and words, but not picking him up
- Respond to cries in a relaxed and upbeat manner. This means that you go back to your child with a smile on your face, not a look of concern.
- Don’t mirror his panic
- Once baby is calm (or more calm), distract him
- Play peek-a-boo to help teach him about object permanence. I have read to do this with you and also with other objects. You can put a favorite toy under a blanket and ask, “Where is the toy?” then lift the blanket and say “there it is!”
- Have a stuffed animal or other toy (not a very favorite!) go for a “trip” somewhere for a day or two and then come back. This helps your little one come to trust that things come back.
- Along this line, teach your child to through consistency phrases like “I’ll be right back.” You say that, leave for a moment, then return.
- Give your child time without you. You can leave him with a sitter or with your spouse
- When taking your child to a new place, give your child time to get a little familiar with the location before you take off. Go early the first time so your child can get familiar with the surroundings before you leave
- Have other people care for baby. Don’t have just one parent change every diaper and feed every bite of food. Start this at a young age–but it is never too late to start.
- Have your child wave to you as you leave. He might not be happy, but wave and be happy yourself. Do not sneak out hoping baby won’t notice.
- Allow lovies when your baby or child will be without you. This gives your child some comfort to cling to
- Work on language skills. Sometimes the emotion your little one is displaying is because he cannot communicate his feelings. Help him learn sign language or how to say words for feelings so he knows he is being understood.
- Have a routine for your baby. A routine will help prevent it, or at least minimalize it. Tracy Hogg seems to think so also; she discusses how attachment parenting can lead to insecurity in the child. So there is an excellent chance a solid routine will help. Children with anxiety in general often do better when they know what to expect from their days. It helps them feel more in control and secure. However, I do know that some babies and children do have separation anxiety even with solid routines.
- Establish independent playtime. This will teach your child to be happy alone. Again, it is good to start this young, but it is never too late. If baby starts to have a hard time with this, cut it back to 5 minutes, or more if baby can handle more. Once the separation anxiety is over, you can work on building the time length out again.
- Blanket time. This can be in addition to independent playtime or just instead of initially. Read more about blanket time here.
- When you are back with your child after a separation, make the reunion notable. Follow your little one’s lead, but smile and say hello and a big hug. Do not rush in and ask her if she is okay and if she survived without you. Make it no big deal and a happy reunion.
Please share your tips and experiences with separation anxiety. Even if it is just to say, “It lasted two months then went away…” it is helpful for moms to see other kids go through it too.
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