How to Deal with Separation Anxiety

How to Deal with Separation AnxietySeparation anxiety is a normal and healthy part of infancy, toddlerhood and early childhood.  Although it is stressful for everyone, teaching your children how to overcome adversity and that life goes on without you around is a vital lesson for their future.  Today we’re exploring why separation anxiety occurs and how to deal with separation anxiety in your baby.

Separation anxiety usually begins in infancy around 7 or 8 months of age when your baby realizes that you exist without one another.  At this time babies realize when their parents are not around and begin to feel abandoned.  Yes, that seems heartbreaking for both you and your baby, but of course they don’t realize that you will always come back.  Separation anxiety usually rears its head again in toddlerhood and even during preschool years at different stages of a child’s psychological development.

The best ways to deal with separation anxiety include acknowledging your baby’s fears, giving her a heads up and never showing your own anxiety about the situation.  Expecting your baby not to feel separation anxiety is unreasonable so you should do everything you can to ease the negative feelings.

First, try to keep things very consistent for your child when you are away.  If possible, leave her in her own environment and ensure your caregiver keeps a similar schedule and routine to yours.  Talk your baby or toddler through what is going to happen several days before it occurs to get her used to the idea that someone else will be around.  Speak enthusiastically about the fun you’ll have with the caregiver and that you can’t wait to hear all about it when you return.

Like other major changes in your baby’s life, you’ll want to gradually introduce separation.  Whether you are returning to work or not, it’s a good idea to occasionally leave your baby with a caregiver by the time she is six months old.  This early start to teaching your baby that parents sometimes leave but they always come back is crucial to smoother transitions in the future.

Begin with a familiar caregiver, such as a grandparent or close friend that your baby knows already.  Then proceed to less familiar babysitters and nannies as necessary.  If your child will be going to daycare, ask the facility if you can leave your child for several shorter days before you actually head back to work full time.  This will help your baby become more comfortable with a new environment than being tossed in for 9 hours the first day.

Many parents make the mistake of sneaking away while their child isn’t watching them to avoid a meltdown.  While this may make you feel better, your child will surely notice you are gone and have a much worse response, which you’re leaving your caregiver to deal with alone.  Tricking your baby doesn’t build trust or confidence either.  Instead, say a short, confident goodbye and always be cheerful.  Never show your child that you, too, are sad to leave.  This sends mixed messages and invites a breakdown on their end too.  Don’t say long, drawn-out goodbyes.  A quick hug, kiss and wave should do it.  Instruct your caregiver to divert your baby’s attention immediately so you can leave without having to look back.

If it helps your child, leave something of yours for your baby to embrace in your absence.  An article of clothing, a photograph or even a picture you’ve drawn for her works great.  Some children like to hear from their parents while they are gone, especially if it’s for multiple days.  Check in briefly to let your baby know you love her and you’ll be back soon.  For other kids, hearing from their parents makes them upset so in that case, avoid contact but do touch base with your caregiver for an update.

Separation anxiety is a stage like many others that your baby will experience.  It’s a sign of maturity and awareness, even if it is painful in the moment.  Employ these tactics to deal with separation anxiety to make parting easier for everyone.