It can be challenging to leave your little one behind when you have to go. That’s why it’s important to know effective strategies for coping with baby separation anxiety, so you can feel confident in your baby’s ability to thrive even when you’re not there.
Having a baby that cries and screams every time you have to leave them is a particularly difficult separation. Yet, worrying about being left alone is common among young children. Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, Ross A. Thompson, Ph.D., argues this is evidence of a child’s attachment to its parents.
Eventually, your child’s sense of safety will aid in his or her development into a capable and self-reliant toddler. Until then, though, you can rest easy by following these suggestions for coping with separation anxiety.
When Do Infants Develop Separation Anxiety?
Anxiety about being apart from loved ones might be attributed to maturing minds. According to Jude Cassidy, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland in College Park, “your kid has no sense that [they are] autonomous from [their] caretaker” in the first few months of life. That’s why newborns and infants prefer to bounce around from lap to lap.
There is a wide range of separation anxiety symptoms and onset times among infants, as reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Symptoms may appear as early as 4 or 5 months of age. Nonetheless, the average age of onset is nine months, according to the AAP.
Your baby will be able to tell you and other people apart by the time they are eight months old, and they will develop strong ties to their carers. Kids are also learning about object permanence: the idea that things and people (such as their parents) continue to exist even when we can no longer see them. Dr. Cassidy explains that separation anxiety can be effectively treated by combining several recent discoveries in child development.
It can show up when you’re trying to get to the bathroom in peace after dropping off your child at daycare. The distress associated with separation often resurfaces at the 15-month mark, just as it appears like your infant is beginning to adapt. This time around is a little different, though: When you leave, your child knows you’re not there; they just don’t know how long you’ll be gone.
Signs of Baby Separation Anxiety
“The timing and degree of the separation anxiety may be varied for various children,” explains Jessica Mercer Young, Ph.D., a research scientist at Education Development Center in Newton, Massachusetts. If you leave your baby, they will likely become clinging and cry.
No matter where they are — in daycare, in their cribs, or at Grandma and Grandpa’s — they will likely cry. It’s safe to say, though, that they’ll settle down as soon as you leave the room.
Your child’s reaction will vary in intensity based on their temperament and normal routine. There are further contributing elements: Babies who have been cared for by someone other than their parents from an early age have an easier time adjusting to parental separation. On the other hand, if your infant is overtired, undernourished, or ill, you should probably reconsider leaving them alone. But what do you do if your baby is crying and you need to leave quickly? Make use of some of the advice offered here.
Strategies for Coping with Infant Separation Anxiety
You may feel tempted to give in to your baby’s cries and postpone your departure, but doing so will only make things more difficult the next time you need to go out of the house. Indeed, infants usually settle down quickly once you’ve left the room. Here are some things you may do in the meantime to ease your child’s fears.
Playing peekaboo with your kid might help ease the transition to separation by reinforcing the idea that you will always come back. Stuffed animals and dolls can also go on “journeys” and come back to their owners. Finally, you can try leaving them for a little amount of time with someone they know and trust, such as half an hour to an hour.
Try hiring a babysitter for longer stretches of time once they’ve seen that you always come back (and that other caregivers are fun and caring, too).
Design a farewell ritual.
Donna Holloran, founder of Babygroup, Inc. in Santa Monica, California, emphasizes the significance of routine for infants, particularly those who are younger. In order to help your child cope with the separation, you might want to create a goodbye ritual. One or more options to test out are:
- Sing a short tune together.
- Smile and wave to your kid or give them a big bear hug and kiss.
- Make up a fun and simple handshake that only you know.
- Say a quick rhyme as you part ways.
Do what works, no matter how much it hurts.
Do not sneak out.
Many parents make the mistake of leaving their kids behind without saying goodbye, either while they are not looking or when they are preoccupied with an activity. Dr. Young says that a child may get nervous or angry if they don’t get a chance to say goodbye and kiss a loved one.
Don’t waver as you pack up and leave.
If your infant cries as you leave, don’t try to stop it. Dr. Cassidy argues that the capacity for self-awareness and emotional expression is a crucial emotional basis.
But that is not a reason to postpone your departure or to feel bad about leaving. The pain could be prolonged if you stick around to try to console them. Instead, reassure your child that they are loved by you with a kiss and a hug, and then hand them over to the caretaker. They’ll probably stop weeping soon.
Try to keep your cool.
Try to keep your cool and not let your feelings show. Hold back the tears as much as you can, at least until you get to the car. Your child’s own feelings of worry and stress may be exacerbated if they see you experiencing them. Maintaining your composure will make your child feel safer and pick up on your confidence.
Create a joyful reunion.
“As parents, we sometimes gloss over a key element of the separation process: the reunion,” explains Dr. Thompson. When it comes to easing separation anxiety and strengthening the parent-child bond, “happy reunion rituals are vital.”
It is recommended by Dr. Thompson that you pay attention to your child’s cues. The moment you arrive, you should hug everybody who reaches out to you and then spend some time with them before returning inside. If they hold out a toy, you should get on the floor and play with them for a while. Dr. Thompson writes, “These kinds of pleasant returns tell your youngster that it is always fantastic when Mommy and Daddy come back,” no matter how sad it is when they leave.
Get as much “goodbye gear” as possible.
Before you leave, it could help to give your child something familiar, like a blanket or stuffed animal. You may also get a cheap photo album full of family pictures or make a tape in which you tell a tale or express your love.
Stop stressing out.
Feel free to make sure your kid is okay. It doesn’t matter how often it happens; hearing your child cry as you leave will always be heartbreaking. Feel free to text or call at any point during the day. You may rest easy and feel less guilty about leaving if you do this.
Develop a relaxing nighttime ritual.
Sleepless nights caused by separation anxiety? Develop some sort of soothing nighttime ritual (a bath, some reading, a kiss goodnight, etc.) and stick to it. Your youngster will be more prepared for the forthcoming separation if you stick to a consistent routine.
To comfort them when they are feeling lonely or afraid, record yourself reading stories or singing lullabies and playing it back. Nighttime goodbyes can go smoothly if you follow the same guidelines as during the day: provide a consistent routine, stick to your plan, be calm, and don’t linger in your room too long.
Leaving a baby who is crying because you have to go somewhere else can be quite difficult. Do not be afraid to try anything new. It’s incredibly challenging, yes, but it will benefit you much as a couple. Your baby needs time apart from you for them to learn to cope with separation and trust that you’ll return, and you need time to yourself for whatever you need to get done (work, errands, fun, leisure).
It’s healthy for them to express their feelings through tears. And when you get back together, you show them they can depend on you no matter what, strengthening your bond even more.
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