What is separation anxiety?
The development of separation anxiety demonstrates that your baby has formed a healthy, loving attachment to you. It is a sign that your baby associates pleasure, comfort and security with your presence. It also indicates that your baby is developing intellectually (in other words, she’s smart!). She has learned that she can have an effect on her world when she makes her needs known and she doesn’t have to passively accept a situation that makes her uncomfortable.
But she doesn’t know enough about the world yet to understand that when you leave her you’ll always come back. This stage, like so many others in childhood, will pass. In time, your baby will learn that she can separate from you, that you will return, and that everything will be okay between those two points in time. Much of this learning is based on trust, which, just as for every human being young or old, takes time to build.
How do I know if my baby has separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is pretty easy to spot. The following are behaviors typically demonstrated by a baby with normal separation anxiety:
Crying when a parent is out of sight
Strong preference for only one parent
Fear of strangers
Waking at night crying for a parent
Easily comforted in a parent’s embrace
12 ways to help your baby deal with separation anxiety
1. Allow your baby to be a baby. It’s perfectly okay for your baby to be attached to you and for her to desire your constant companionship. It’s evidence that the bond you’ve worked so hard to create is holding. So politely ignore those who tell you otherwise.
2. Don’t worry about spoiling her with love, since quite the opposite will happen. The more that you meet her attachment needs during babyhood, the more confident and secure she will grow up to be.
3. Give your baby lessons in object permanence. As your baby learns that things continue to exist even when she can’t see them, she’ll feel better about letting you out of her sight. Games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek will help her understand this phenomenon.
4. Practice with quick, safe separations. Throughout the day, create situations of brief separation. When you go into another room, whistle, sing, or talk to your baby so she knows you’re still there, even though she can’t see you.
5. Don’t sneak away when you have to leave her. It may seem easier than dealing with a tearful goodbye, but it will just cause her constant worry that you’re going to disappear without warning at any given moment. The result? Even more clinginess and diminished trust in your relationship.
6. Tell your baby what to expect. If you are going to the store and leaving her at home with Grandma, explain where you are going and tell her when you’ll be back. Eventually, she’ll come to understand your explanations.
7. Don’t rush the parting, but don’t prolong it, either. Give your baby time to process your leave-taking, but don’t drag it out and make it more painful for both of you.
8. Express a positive attitude when leaving her. If you’re off to work or an evening out, leave with a smile. Your baby will absorb your emotions, so if you’re nervous about leaving her, she’ll be nervous as well. Your confidence will help alleviate her fears.
9. Leave your baby with familiar people. If you must leave her with a new caregiver, try to arrange a few visits when you’ll all be together before you leave the two of them alone for the first time.
10. Invite distractions. If you’re leaving your baby with a caregiver or relative, encourage that person to get your baby involved with playtime as you leave. Say a quick good-bye and let your baby be distracted by an interesting activity.
11. Encourage her relationship with a special toy, if she seems to have one. These are called transitional objects or lovies. They can be a comfort to her when she’s separated from you. Many babies adopt blankets or soft toys as loveys, holding them to ease any pain of separation. The lovey becomes a friend and represents security in the face of change.
12. Don’t take it personally. Many babies go through a stage of attaching themselves to one parent or the other. The other parent (as well as grandparents, siblings and friends) can find this difficult to accept, but try to reassure them that it’s just a temporary and normal phase of development and with a little time and patience, it will pass.