Is your once happy baby crying as soon as you’re not in his field of vision? He may have a case of separation anxiety.
It is a stage of development all babies reach at some point. Babies who were very social and got along with everybody, suddenly start reacting very badly to their parents leaving their side.
We’re sure you can fully understand baby separation anxiety – since you probably experience it yourself! Leaving our baby’s side is anything but easy, and whenever our child starts expressing such unhappiness, it becomes heart-breaking.
But why does separation anxiety happen? Whether your baby is already going through it or not, don’t miss the following lines. Even if you have a very social baby, there will be a moment when he won’t react well to you leaving him. That doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong, though. Keep reading to find out why it happens!
Separation anxiety: Why does it happen?
Separation anxiety hits when babies reach what is called object permanence – an understanding that the people and the things around them exist beyond their presence. In other words, at some point of his emotional development, your baby will understand that you too have a life, and that when you are not with him, you still are – but are spending your time doing something else and with someone else.
No, you’re not doing anything wrong. If you think about it, it makes sense that your little one cries when you’re away: You are the most important person for him, the one who’s there when he’s sad or in pain, and also the one with whom he shares his happiest moments, and the one who takes care of him and protect him. Of course he doesn’t want you to leave!
When will my baby have separation anxiety? How will I know?
There isn’t an exact time for your baby to start having separation anxiety, although there are some stages worth describing. Usually, babies start showing the first signs of it when they are 6 or 7 months, although the real crisis will happen later on, after they’ve celebrated their 10th month in this world.
Separation anxiety can also happen later, during the toddler phase or even after. But keep in mind that it can happen in a sudden way. Your baby may show his separation anxiety in any situation: when you leave him with the babysitter to go to work; with the grandparents to run a quick errand and even when you leave the room for a moment to go get his favourite toy. It can also happen during night, if your little one sleeps in his own room: He may start crying in distress if he wakes up and doesn’t see you!
Separation anxiety can last for a while – it will depend much on the personality of your baby, and it may not be something that your little one just accepts. For instance, if your child starts suffering from separation anxiety at 7 months, when you leave him with his grandparents for a while and eventually gets over it; the feeling may resurface a few weeks later when you go back to work; or even months later when he starts going to the nursery. Separation anxiety comes in stages!
The stages of separation anxiety
Yes, unfortunately, separation anxiety is a recurrent issue most times. It doesn’t always have to be like this – every baby is different, and every child is different!
- The baby stage: the beginning of separation anxiety will typically come when your little one is 8 months. It is a hard stage for them, since they fully understand that you’re leaving, but they may not understand that you’re coming back – even if you tell them!
- The toddler stage: Your little one is older and can understand better… But sometimes being older also means that he’s going to be harder to console! This is when separation anxiety usually hits its peak, so explain to your toddler that you will be back, and when – and stick to it!
- The child stage: Even if they may get over separation anxiety, going to school may bring it back, as well as a new baby sibling. Changes can be overwhelming!
Dealing with separation anxiety in babies
So how do we deal with separation anxiety in babies and toddlers? There are many things that you can do to make your little one feel better, although they may not work the first time you try them. You will have to be patient!
- Prepare your baby: if you are going to hire a babysitter, plan ahead so you can stay during the first few days so your baby is not alone with them at the beginning. This way, he won’t feel that you’re leaving him with a stranger. Once the moment arrives, don’t leave right away and stay for a while with both of them before leaving.
The most social child can have separation anxiety, but them being used to be with different people does help at some point. If your child is used to spend time with his grandparents, friends or the babysitter, they won’t feel so lonely when you go.
- Say goodbye, but not for long: Explain to your baby where you are going and when you’ll be back, but don’t act like it’s a big deal. But don’t leave without him noticing either!
- Don’t show your own separation anxiety: It’s normal to feel nervous and sad when leaving your baby, especially during the first few times. But if you show it, he will understand that he’s facing a difficult moment, which will make it worse.
- Create a ritual: Rituals usually work with babies for all sorts of things, like potty training or sleep training, so you can try to develop one for this as well. A high-five and a “see ya later, buddy” may work miracles, especially during the toddler stage.
- Use times he’ll understand: Children are not able to read a clock or measure time like we do, so use a different approach. You can explain that you will be home after lunch, or when the sun starts setting down.
- Understand his anxiety: Don’t tell your little one that he’s a big boy or she’s a big girl – that will just make them feel guilty towards the emotions they’re feeling. Acknowledge that you know that it can be hard that you leave them, but explain that you will be back and you will be able to spend time together later.
- Don’t cave to tantrums: When separation anxiety runs into the ‘terrible twos’, it can be difficult to actually leave, but they need to understand that you can’t always be with them. Don’t allow their tantrums to force you to stay home or not bring them to the nursery. They will have to get used to it!
So, are you ready to deal with separation anxiety? It will be hard when it comes, but remember: this too shall pass!