Just what is Separation Anxiety?
Many infants go through a phase known as separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can start at any time and typically lasts several months.
This can be a hard time for parents, particularly if your baby seems attached to one specific parent. You may feel as though you are your baby’s only source of comfort and this can be exhausting and frustrating.
Something as simple as just going into the bathroom and closing the door can cause your baby to sob uncontrollably.
Many parents worry that there is something wrong with their baby that is causing him to act so distressed, but the good news is that separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of child development.
Reasons for Separation Anxiety
One of the main reasons that babies go through separation anxiety is because of the concept of object permanence.
Object permanence refers to the development phase of your baby when he realizes that just because an object isn’t there (such as you) doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
In other words, when you leave the room, your baby has now become aware that they are still somewhere, just not with you.
This can cause significant distress for your baby and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep you close to him, such as crying until you return to the room.
Even though separation anxiety is perfectly normal this is often a very difficult phase for parents to get through.
Hearing your baby cry is difficult but there are ways to make this phase easier for both you and your baby to deal with.
Tips for Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Infants
While you can’t stop separation anxiety completely from happening (remember, it is a perfectly normal and healthy part of infant development) you can take certain steps to help ease occurrences and the intensity of your baby’s anxiety.
Most parents simply aren’t able to be with their baby 24 hours a day to soothe them so some coping strategies can help you get through this tough phase.
As soon as your baby starts to display signs of separation anxiety then it’s time to start a routine. This may be as simple as a hug and a kiss each time before you leave.
If you become anxious and upset then your baby is likely to become more upset as well. One of the worst things you can do is give in to your crying baby if you know they are not hurt and just upset that you are leaving.
While it may seem to mean to leave a screaming baby, it may actually be worse to let them learn that their crying will get them what they want.
And next time you actually do have to leave, it will be even more difficult for them and they will likely cry longer and harder if they have learned that crying typically gets them what they want.
If you’re leaving your baby with a caregiver that you trust then you know that your baby will be alright. Learning to deal with upsets, frustrations, and anger is all part of growing up.
Separation Anxiety in Older Children
Toddlers who are still dealing with separation anxiety may also benefit from being reminded that you’re going to be coming back.
Telling your child that “Mommy always comes back” before leaving and then repeating that phrase when you return can solidify for the child that you do indeed always return.
Many children go through a period of intense separation anxiety when they begin daycare or preschool, especially if they have been home full time with you before that.
Usually, this separation anxiety can last up to several weeks but most toddlers quickly learn that school is a fun place to be and their parent always comes to pick them up at the end of the day.
Most caregivers are used to dealing with children with separation anxiety and are able to help your toddler cope when you are gone.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Keep in mind that nothing will work immediately and none of the above suggestions is a guaranteed solution.
Many parents look at separation anxiety as a problem to be solved but it’s truly something that infants need to go through.
However, there can be instances when separation anxiety turns into a disorder. This typically doesn’t become a problem until your child is older, but continued anxiety that starts to disrupt both you and your child’s life can become a serious problem.
Signs to look for would be if your child begins to avoid school or play dates in order to avoid being away from you.
If you have any concerns about your child’s development or increasing separation anxiety make an appointment with your child’s doctor.
They’ll be able to help you determine if your baby is dealing with a natural part of their development or if it is turning into something more serious.