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Understanding Your Baby’s Separation Anxiety

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If your cutie flips when you leave the room, she may be experiencing separation anxiety. Learn what’s behind this normal developmental stage and how to ease the drama.
How to Ease Separation Anxiety

Think about what life is like for a baby. She doesn’t know what’s normal and what’s not. She can’t figure out what’s safe and what she should be afraid of. She has no experience under her belt. But as long as she’s taken care of and her needs are met, she’s basically happy.

But then around the 8-month mark, and sometimes earlier, a baby will begin to realize there’s more to her world than the faces and places she sees on a regular basis—and that can be scary.

True, she’s completely comfy around mommy, daddy, and her regular sitter, but take one of those players off of the field before she understands that that person will come back again—and it’s, well, a game changer. Oh the tears. Oh the drama.

How to Spot Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety manifests in wildly different ways from baby to baby. It can provoke whines and whimpers in some little ones—low-key signs of distress that are, nevertheless, unsettling for parents.

But it also can trigger massive meltdowns in others. Some will shriek as soon as mom puts her hand on the doorknob or lose it only when mama is totally out of sight. Still others grow anxious when a sitter comes, even if that sitter is grandma.

Separation anxiety usually resolves around age 2. This is when a baby comprehends that, although mom may indeed leave (for date night, for work, or a trip to the doctor), she will come back again. Saying goodbye does get easier.

Keep in mind, however, that significant life events—such as a family crisis, a new sibling, or moving to a new house—can start the tears flowing again. But with understanding on your part, lots of reassurance, planning, and time, the two of you can get past this major milestone. In the process, your baby will learn some important coping skills and enjoy a little independence.

Try these tips:
  • Avoid leaving your child when she is fussy, tired, or hungry. A better strategy: Exit after a nap or following a feeding.
  • Manage your “mother bear” instincts. Early on, allow trusted family members or a close friend to watch your infant for short periods to help him get used to new faces.
  • Plan get-to-know-you time with caregivers. Introduce a new face or an unfamiliar child care setting gradually. For example, before you return to work, pay your sitter to “practice sit” at your house. This gives your baby time to get to know her. Or build in extra play time with your baby at daycare before scooting out, to ease her through the transition.
  • Practice a departure ritual. When it’s time to leave your cutie, don’t just make a run for it. Always say good-bye. Work out a solid routine where you focus exclusively on your baby without distractions (a hug, a kiss, and a confident I will be back before dinner). Exit calmly so your baby doesn’t pick up any of your anxiety.