Separation Anxiety – How can I help my baby?

At some point during your baby’s development he or she will experience separation anxiety. This is completely normal, and the good news is that for the vast majority of babies, separation anxiety happens in phases and doesn’t last that long. Here are some tips that may help you and your baby!

Why does my baby have separation anxiety?

It all starts when your baby realizes that objects and people still exist even if he or she can’t see them – the concept that we call object permanence. Your baby realizes that the person that protects and cares for him or her has gone away and is currently existing somewhere else. Since he or she doesn’t know when, or if, you will return, anxiety kicks in!

Separation anxiety is a normal emotional stage of development, however we know it can be difficult for parents to cope with a baby who gets panicky and upset when they’re not around. So here are some ideas and tips you can try at home.

Introduce strangers early on

It might help if your baby knows everyone early on. You can try introducing the babysitters, relatives, and friends who’ll be caring for your little one when you’re gone. Between 6 and 8 months, your baby usually likes everyone! So getting the caretakers “in” could help make him or her more comfortable when separation anxiety strikes.

Say goodbye

Although you may want to spare your baby’s (or your) feelings by leaving without saying goodbye, it might make your baby’s separation anxiety even stronger. What your baby really needs is to learn the simple pattern “you say goodbye, you leave, and you return later”. So explaining to your child what will happen every time you leave might help him or her. Even if your baby doesn’t understand your words yet – he or she will very soon! 

Play games like Peek-a-boo!

Playing games like peek-a-boo will help your baby understand object permanence – realizing that objects still exist even if he or she can’t see them. Although this is the whole reason for separation anxiety, these games can teach your child that even if you’re gone for a while you will always come back! Try playing “Where is mommy?” You can even hide and let your baby find you.

Encourage independent play

Teaching your child to play independently will allow him or her to grow out of the separation anxiety phase as he or she develops the confidence and patience to be alone for a while. It’s important to note that independent play is a learned skill that you can teach your baby. It won’t be accomplished overnight. You can try to turn your attention to a book while sitting next to your baby; a few days later, move a few feet away during playtime; then across the room; then try standing up; and eventually leave the room for a minute or two. With time, your baby will get used to you leaving and coming back.

Create quick goodbye rituals

Rituals and routines are important. They give your baby the structure and security to know what will happen next. Having a special “goodbye handshake” will help him or her learn that you may be leaving for a while but still will be coming back later on. You can try special hand movements, give him or her lots of kisses, or provide a special blanket or toy as you leave. Remember to keep the good-bye short and sweet. If you delay, the transition time does too and the anxiety kicks in.

Hope these tips help! Let us know in the comment section what are some of the things you do to help your baby with his or her anxiety.

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