How to Manage Separation Anxiety in Babies

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.

Baby laying head on shoulder

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

Pinnable image about separation anxiety

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.

Tips for Managing Separation Anxiety pinnable image

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.


41 thoughts on “How to Manage Separation Anxiety in Babies”

  1. So I was wondering if you could post exactly when you start "de-swaddling" McKenna because my babes is about a week younger then McKenna and she is my first, I don't know how to wean her but I am planning on doing it about the same time as you. Can you post like every day or every other day the things you are doing to help her get used to not being swaddled? I would really appreciate it!

  2. My little guy started speration anxiety at 12 mo. He was moved to a new classroom in his daycare the same week that daddy went out of town. So, there were many changes at once. They also only do one nap in this classroom. He would protest and cry when we left him but would stop pretty much immediately once we were gone. This lasted for 1-1.5 months and all is well now at 14 mo. He is a pretty well adjusted, independent guy due to babywise so I knew the situation was just a transition period due to all of the changes.

  3. Kami,My son is one week older than McKenna and this is our first. We started by unswaddling one arm and we started at 14 weeks. We swaddled him very tightly but with one arm out. He didn't sleep any differently than with both arms swaddled but did play around with his hand is his mouth a little longer before falling asleep. I have a very active son. His inability to control his arms wasn't the reason for us swaddling him. We swaddled because he would start chewing on his hands, keep himself awake, and then want to play. At 16 weeks I tried unswaddling both arms for 4 nights in a row, and he did very well, he was down at 8:30 and sleeping very well until about 5am. He would start stirring (he normally stirs a little around then, but puts himself back to sleep) and then realize he had his hands free, wake up, start talking and be ready to start his day. I tried putting him down a little earlier, a little later, but neither worked. We started swaddling his one arm again and he is back to still being sound asleep at his 6:30am wake time. He is very good at putting himself back to sleep with one arm out. If anyone has suggestions for me I would love to hear them! He is really starting to roll during the day, so I would love to get that second arm out, but he sleeps like a log at night (literally doesn't move) so I am that worried yet.

  4. My DD is 6 months old and has had stranger anxiety since age 3 months. She is getting better slowly. As long as adults are calm and not in her face "babytalking" she is fine. I wonder if her tendency to be shy and fearful with strangers will lead her to have separation anxiety with me. Of course, we are not separated very much :-). I am a stay at home mom. But I will be on the lookout for it over the next few months. Currently, she does independent playtime very well. We'll see if this continues!

  5. I'm pretty sure my 14 month old is dealing with some separation anxiety issues that are causing napping problems – it 'seems' better he isn't protesting as much to go down for naps, but he's still not sleeping as long. He currently taking two 1 hour naps where I used to get 1 hour out of him in the morning, and 1 1/2 -2 in the afternoon. I wondered if he was ready to start weaning off of his am nap and I actually left a question about this on your 'dropping naps' post, but never heard back. Anyhow, that totally backfired and he only slept 1 hour the ENTIRE DAY – ugh. When he wakes up he generally starts wimpering and I wait a few minutes (5-15min)to see if he'll go back to sleep which then results in an all-out wail until I go in. I've tried soothing him (both inside and out of his crib) to encourage him to go back to sleep but all he wants to do is get up. Thankfully he's still sleeping well at night, but this makes for a loooong day, esp. since he's pretty whiny and clingy/needy with the separation issues. I'll admit I have not been as consitent with independant play as I was with his older brother, but on occasion he can play by himself. He does fabulous with babysitters and other caregivers at the church nursery. Any feedback would be great – i'm getting frazzled with this nap thing! 😉

  6. We experienced some separation anxiety with Tobias but it was very mild and short-lived compared to most. He had it at around 7 months old and again at 11 months old. His was mostly focused around bedtime, which is odd because normally he LOVES his crib and bedtime is fun, he crawls happily into his room now when we say "time for night night". His signs were screaming as if scared for no reason when we left the room after putting him down. He'd sit up and just cry and cry and took awhile to console when we went in there. I tried the PU/PD method as well as patting his back as he lay there, neither worked. After 2 hours on the 3rd day of this I just said firmly but cheerfully "it's time for night night, mommy needs to go in the living room". I repeated it each time he cried and then basically let him cio. By then he was so exhausted he fell right to sleep and we've had no issues since then.

  7. Have you ever posted on separation anxiety when kids start preschool? My 2.5 year old is just starting summer camp at the preschool she will attend 2 mornings a week in the fall. She is having a very difficult time. I am a stay at home mom so she has always been with me. We have a great schedule/routine so I know that is not it. I am thinking she will get used to it. She says when I drop her off (through tears) that mommy comes back after lunch! Very cute! Just wondering if there is anything I could do or how long this might last?

  8. Rachel,Honestly, I thought MOST kids went thru some sort of sep. anxiety, so to hear that BW babies DON'T go thru it is news to me!! That is crazy! Maybe because BW babies "usually" aren't in a daycare situation or have other caregivers? I know a lot of BW kids that are in daycare though! All I know is that my DD went thru it around 9 months, but it was to strangers, not leaving her alone in a room. She was really bad around 2.5 years like your DD. She LOVED her daycare and had been going there since she was 3 months old! But for some reason, all of a sudden she started crying during drop offs. That lasted about two weeks and went away. When she turned 3 it got SOOOOOOO much better!! BTW-i am talking more about "stranger anxiety" i guess than sep. anxiety. She never cares if I leave the room or whatever…

  9. My son is 8 months and it seems like he is starting to get seperation anxiety. Whenever we leave the room (more me than my husband) he starts to cry, not just fuss. He even gets tears in his eyes sometimes. He has been a babywise baby since birth, is on a great schedule, gets time with dad as well as me and has plenty of independant play, but still seems to hate when we leave! We are going on our first date on Saturday since he was born (I know, waaaaaaaayyyy too long to go without a date – but it was a money and convenience issue for us) and I am curious to see how he does staying with Grandma for the day. I hope he is ok but am hoping this phase goes away quickly! 🙂

  10. I've been doing BW since my DD was 5 weeks old, following BW to the letter. She got separation anxiety at 8 months old; I had no idea what it was and at first started problem solving to figure out if her routine needed adjusting, etc. Nothing worked. We went to my parents about 4 days into this for a visit; every time I left my DD for a nap, she'd get hysterical. Really really crying hard – like nothing I had seen her do before! I'd wait 5 minutes, then go in and rub her back and tell her it was OK and to go to sleep. Then I'd leave, it'd start all over again. It got to where she'd hear me outside the door and stop crying right away.Gramma watched her on the monitor and we both realized what was happening. As soon as I went back into the room she'd sit up and start clapping her hands. I ended up doing CIO and after the nap was over, I'd go in so happy and clap and smile and tell her she did a good job with her sleep. The CIO was 30 min's first day, then it went down a few min's each day after that. After a few more days of that at naptime, it stopped. So all together it lasted 2 weeks at the most.I wish I could leave her with a babysitter; we don't have one and my family lives 4 hours away so we don't have family that helps us on a regular basis. I wish I could have my spouse do regular feedings/diaper changes/etc. but the reality is he travels for work ALOT and it's mostly me with her. When he is home, he does take time with her and she's fine with him. Sometimes the situation just is what it is; I felt like separation anxiety is alot like other things we go thru as moms – another 'stage'. And it passed!

  11. Just thought I'd add that while Caleb never had seperation anxiety before, I recently suspected it in my 15 month old. He would give this loud, fearful wail when I put him down for naps/bed or if he woke in the night. I have a video monitor so I could see that he was scared. He also ONLY wanted me in and around naps/bedtime/MOTN. He would continue the screams if dad tried to help. My last concern was that he wanted to be held a lot, would follow me around rather than being content playing nearby. The MOTN wakings, the attachment, the scared cries all happened during and continued after an overseas trip where he slept in the same room as us, was held A LOT by me or DH and circumstances didn't allow for alone time. It took me awhile to realize that it wasn't separation anxiety in our case. He had simply developed an extreme attachment to me during our trip. I noticed that once we got back to ind. play and blanket time, he was fine w/o me. Once he was forced to allow dad to put him to bed/help at night (I was out), he actually slept better than when I was there. Once I started declining his request to be held all the time, he was really ok with it. Anyway, once we started some CIO again for the sleeping issues, he got even better.I know our circumstance was a bit different with the international travel, but hopefully this can help encourage other moms to carefully observe all the signs to determine what's really going on with their LO.

  12. my boy is 6 months… i wouldn't say he has "separation anxiety" but at certain times of the day, he will get upset if i leave the room. he does fine sleeping and napping. it's mostly after his last nap of the day around 5:30. he doesn't want to be left alone, wants my attention. i will play with him, then if i have to leave for a minute he cries. but as soon as he can see me, he's fine!! i don't rush to him b/c I want him to get used to playing by himself.

  13. I just went through separation anxiety with my son. It lasted from about 8.5 months until end of 9 months. We just moved cross country. He was surrounded by tons of new faces. I think that caused the separation anxiety to come on full force. He started waking up early in the mornings and crying for me (not a hunger thing) around 5am- 6am. He started to cry before each nap again, when he use to go down for his naps without any problem. He did not want to even go to close family members- just me or my husband. Here are some things I did to help…first, I let him cry. I did not rush in at the morning to get him. I did not want to create a bad habit. I also let him cry-it-out before his naps. It was hard to let him cry-it-out again especially since we had already been through this when he was a newborn. Over time it got better. I also realized that he loved to rub fabric through his fingers when he was trying to self-sooth. I noticed this when watching him twirl the fabric of his sleep sac on our video monitor. I made him a blankie, which really helped. Before his naps I would snuggle with him and his blankie. He would sucks his fingers and cling to his blankie. The crying before his naps greatly diminished. I think that blankie helped to give him some extra security that he was needing. To deal with the clinginess during the day, well, I just worked on leaving him in the room and coming to him after a few minutes. I made sure I came back before he started to fuss. I would then give him lots of affection and congratulate him on playing well by himself. I kept doing this, but extending the amount of time I was away every time. Crazy that I had to do this because my son use to play well by himself for 30-45 minutes. But this new strategy worked!He was fine in the Church nursery. We just had problems with dropping him off. To deal with that, I would do a quick exchange so he did not have time to really dwell on the fact that I was leaving. This cut down on the crying quite a bit. He just turned 10 months this week and I feel like I have my well adjusted son back. He is happy, plays well by himself, and is sleeping a whole lot better. There is a article about 9 month difficulties if anyone cares to read it:

  14. My son never has had separation anxiety…I have. :p He had never spent the night away from us but at almost 21 months he happily got in the car with his aunt and spent two nights at their house while we were in the hospital having our daughter. He would come and visit but had no issues leaving. He slept like a charm for them! Then he got home and his first set of 2-yr molars came in… :p

  15. We have a 6 month old daughter, Adelaide, that has started to have separation anxiety in the past few weeks. The doctor noticed it the last time we were at her office for the 6-mo. check up, she tried to hold Adelaide, but she just cried until she came back to her dad. We moved cross country a few months ago, and have just found a church in the past month so we have tried to put her in the nursery and she cries the whole time. A few times they have come to get me, but today they just kept her and then put her down for a nap, which was fine. I'm hoping as she is in the nursery more she will get used to being away from me. It's hard because we don't know anyone where we live yet so she just sees me all day and my husband at night and on weekends. She does great with independent playtime, too, and is happy with either of us, but just not when we leave the room. I'm hoping she will grow out of it soon! 🙂

  16. Kami, I will be sure to post about it when we start. Just so you know, she is really later than probably most when it comes to dropping it, so your baby might be ready sooner. Be sure to see the blog label "swaddling" for all related posts.

  17. Katy,Once it becomes a safety issue, I think the best solution is to just let unswaddle and wait for him to learn to sleep that way. You could do both arms out in the day and one at night so he can still sleep better at night if you need to.

  18. Redheads, I think that is common for an only child. Brayden was always upset with lots of "in your face" stuff. McKenna even gets that way sometimes, too, with certain people.

  19. Heidi,There are some people that I just don't get notified of their comments. You seem to be one of them because I wasn't notified of this comment, either. It might be just rollover from normal 12 month disruptions. Since one nap isn't working, I would just continue with the two naps until he overcomes the disruptive time.

  20. Rachel,I haven't experienced that yet. Brayden will start preschool this year. He did have difficulty with going to primary at church this year, which was odd since he never had any sign of anxiety before that. It just took him time to get over it and get used to his new teachers and new surroundings.

  21. HELP!! I can't find where I posted a question before, but I have a situation on my hands! My 4.5 mo old daughter has "seperation anxiety" pretty seriously. It started around…get this…7 WEEKS old! She is wonderful, sleeping through the night, smiles, naps great,eats great, I mean, IDEAL with us….my mother comes by (wonderful grandma of 8-looks alot like me,no perfume..) and SCREAMING Crying! Her dad or I take her back and IMMEDIATELY stops. Same thing with his mother, and other people. She isn't ALWAYS this way, and does better with my mother when she has seen her frequently, aka every day for a few days. but she sees her at least 1x/week! ANY recommendations or links to others with similar situations? I haven't found anything?? PLEASE HELP!

  22. ABCDMomma,With these things, you need:1-exposure to other people2-exposure often3-have your daughter be taken care of by other people.I would have those who want to be close to her come watch her for periods of time without you home. At all. That seems to be the best.McKenna has been clingy to me and DH lately. But when I leave the house and leave her with a grandparent, she is 100% fine and happy. She just clings to us if we are there.

  23. Thank you so much! I will try that a little more intently. I am just hoping we can break it before vacation time! 🙂

  24. My son is 8 months old and ever since he has been born, he has had quite an attachment to me. He is not the first born, and I have no problem with leaving him with others (although I pity the one I leave him with!). The crying usually starts about 15 minutes after I leave. When my husband is able to be home for mealtimes or bedtimes, he lays our son down and there are no problems. But, there have been times that I go to the store and leave my son at home with my husband, and 15-30 minutes later he screams until I get home. He does independent play very well, he will let others hold him and interact with him, I try not to rush to pick him up quickly when he gets upset (unless the person with him is upset), and I do my best to make sure that He has some time away from me. Any suggestions on what else to do?

  25. At this age it's considered "developmentally appropriate." and the family therapist in me says kudos because that shows a secure attachment. If your child showed no concern of your presence or absence, which I have seen in newly adopted toddlers for example, then you should have more to work on. For us, outs started at 6/7 weeks and never really ended. Now as a 21 month old, fun loving and smart as she is, she loves those she knows and warms up to new people after about 10 minutes… But is always initially hesitant. Some tips that helped with the transition for us was a dependable schedule…mothers day put tues/thurs, babysitter mon/wed, and id always saucing same thing… "mommy loves you, I'll see you after work. Have fun!!" and THAT is when we would incorporate our "transition item" aka… The item that comes out only when mom/dad are gone. For us it was her night time soft blankly. She got it for bed, and at drop off. For some, it's there soft lovievthat they get to feel when u rock them to sleep, etc. You can practice in short and graduated intervals. Best of luck to you…just remember, babies respond to our level of anxiety. Always stay the clam constant and remember, temperament cones with each of us into this world!!

  26. schip80,The only suggestion I would have is to make sure your husband does lots of help. Have something he does every day, like feed her dinner or put him to bed.

  27. When dealing with separation anxiety of "older" children, do we need to have a discipline approach? I have a 14 month old and a 2 month old and my 14 month old is going through some major separation anxiety right now. I know that it probably has a lot to do with his new little brother in the house, but I don't know if I should be discipling him for "acting out". He has ALWAYS been such a social kid and has never had a problem with other people. He used to come with me to work and wouldn't be with me most of the day because he was off playing with everyone (even at 6 months). Now he's been fighting sleep and just crying/whining all the time. When we put him to bed at night it takes him over an hour of crying to finally go to sleep. Should we just try to talk him through it and wait it out? Or should we be disciplining him for his behavior?

  28. Hi! My daughter is 19 months now- has been sleeping through the night since 3 months old- perfect babywise baby- gets herself to sleep- eats good- plays good- does independent play time (which is easy because she's so independent)- the whole thing- she's perfect! This week she's been a whole new child. It all started when I left her with my sister, who always watches my kids, put her down for a nap on Saturday. My daughter looooooost it. She flipped out- climbed out of her crib and fell- which she has never done! She screamed and screamed for 30+ minutes. Then my sister thought she'd just let her CIO for a little bit and that didn't work so she laid her on my bed and laid by her and my daughter was asleep in 3 minutes and slept for about an hour. So that was Saturday. Everything has been fine until Wednesday. She did the same thing for me when I put her down for her nap! I usually sit in her rocker and sing 1-2 songs then get her blanket and lay her down- easy as that. She eventually slept in my arms for 45 minutes cause I figured that was better than no nap. Then today- Thursday when I put her down I could tell she was acting nervous. She didn't cry, but she started whimpering and got really clingy, but miraculously I got her in her crib without crying and everything was fine, but after 45 minutes I watched her on her video monitor- she rolled over like she usually does at that 45 minute mark, but this time she jumped up like her bed was on fire and started screaming- jumping up and down and flipped out! She stood there for 30 minutes and cried on and off, until I went in to get her and again- she was asleep in 5-7 minutes and slept in my arms for a short nap. Then, tonight for bed she did the same thing! She eventually just laid down after I just gave up and put her in her bed screaming. I even tried to give her "mama's blanket" or her dolly or monkey to sleep with and she had her arms around my neck so tight and then kept tapping on my chest saying, "Mama, mama, mama!" The last thing I want to do is to create bad habits by going in and getting her and holding her for naps and bedtime. This is so weird because she has never ever been like this. I don't know why all of a sudden she is acting like this. I have noticed though the last maybe month she has been suuuuuper clingy- like won't let me put her down, but going down for naps and bedtime have never ever been a problem. I feel so bad for her cause I don't want her to think I am being mean when I leave her in her bed crying. And, I don't want her to keep having these bad sleeping experiences to associate sleep with. Ahhhhh! Help please! Thank you SO much!!!

  29. Julie says My baby of 9 months has increasingly gotten worse about me leaving her alone in a room. At first it was just the basement living area and now it is any room. We recently got back from a two week Christmas vacation so perhaps that plays a role. I don't always pick her up when she wants me to (I read earlier that could be a good thing?). Sometimes I do put her in her crib for not listening to me when I tell her to "stay". Is that bad??I read somewhere to leave for a few seconds and come back but she cries before I even actually leave the room! As I have been reading around, someone wrote to slowly help them by standing at the doorway, the next day standing a foot away, then two, etc. I will try that and see if it helps. And playing Peek-a-boo.

  30. My LO just turned 7 months and he is experiencing separation anxiety. CIO doesnt work, he gets to a point that he wets the bed with tears and gets a stuffy nose and he cant fall sleep. He went from sleeping the whole night to waking up 3-4 times per night (we allow for CIO but need to go and hold him half of those times). He used to take 3 naps a day and now he takes two, one of 1 hr in the morning and another of 30 min in the afternoon IF he is nursing or sleeping on my lap. We keep trying for 3 naps. He is mostly happy when awake and with people, but a whole lot of crying when put on the crib. Need advise please? We have tried more and less wake up time but not working. Is he overtired? How do I reset things if CIO is not working.

    • Check the list of reasons for poor sleep with this age group in this post. See if the reason your little one won’t sleep is listed:

      If you think it is separation anxiety that is the CAUSE for the poor sleep, I would work on the things that help teach babies object permanence and also work on Independent Playtime during the day. Then you just have to keep at that until the separation anxiety phase passes. But it is possible something else is triggering the poor sleep, so that post will help you rule that out.


Leave a Comment