Being a parent is challenging already, and having your baby cry and scream whenever you leave the room doesn’t make things any easier! All you need is a tiny bit of alone time, but Bub seems to be going through a phase where they can’t be away from you for even just a second – making motherhood all the more stressful.
The reason? A thing called separation anxiety. It’s a totally normal developmental stage that your little one may go through, usually around 6-7 months. There’s no need to worry too much as it WILL be something they’ll grow out of – but it can make things a tad more difficult for both you and your little one. At Haakaa, we’ve prepared this week’s blog post to explain why separation anxiety occurs and how you can handle this tricky part of your baby’s development.
When and why does separation anxiety occur?
Separation anxiety usually starts up around 6-12 months and can last for a while – but it’s usually gone by the time your little one is two and a half years old. It happens around this time because this is the stage that your child begins to understand object permanence: the understanding that objects continue to exist, even when your baby can’t sense them anymore. After your little one realises you’re gone – whether you’ve put them down for sleep, or dropped them off at daycare – they may become unsettled as a result.
Their reactions to separations can be worse if they’re tired, ill or hungry, and their behaviour might be even louder and more difficult to stop. So, how can you tell if your baby has separation anxiety, or is just upset?
What are some signs that my baby has separation anxiety?
- Your baby wakes up in the middle of the night often
Separation anxiety can cause your little one to wake more than usual during the night, as they cry and seek reassurance from you to go back to sleep. They might also find it more difficult to fall asleep, despite following the same bedtime routines.
- Your baby cries when they’re left with somebody else
Suddenly your baby might start being difficult when you drop them off with grandparents, daycare teachers or even when you pass them onto their own dad! They don’t want to be held by anyone except you, making even the smallest separations a lot more complicated. They can be fearful of strangers or unfamiliar people and may show a strong preference for only one parent.
- They get upset when left by themselves
Even if it’s only for a minute or two, babies with separation anxiety will suddenly become distraught when they’re left alone during the day – making getting on with those motherhood chores a whole lot more complicated.
- They’re physically clingy
If your little one has separation anxiety, they’ll refuse to let go when you put them down, grab onto your legs to prevent you from leaving… basically pulling out all the stops so they don’t have to be separated from you.
- Extreme crying
All children cry, but your baby will probably be more emotional than usual if they have separation anxiety. Those with separation anxiety will cry whenever a parent is out of sight but will be easily comforted as soon as the parent holds them. If they continue crying after being picked up, there may be something else going on.
How can I deal with my baby’s separation anxiety?
So, what are some ways to deal with your little one’s separation anxiety, mama? Here, we’ve prepared a list of different strategies parents have tried to ease their little one when they’re separated.
- Don’t sneak away from your baby whenever you leave them. While it may seem like a method that avoids the tears and tantrums, it will confuse your little one over time. They’ll start to worry that you might disappear at any moment without warning, and as a result may become even clingier than before.
- When you have to leave, talk to your baby and tell them where you’re going, and when you’ll return. As they grow older, they’ll begin to understand your explanations and that you will come back, which can help reduce the anxiety of being separated. Take your time when explaining, to help your little one process the information, but don’t drag it on for too long as it can make the separation more painful. Top tip – explain times in terms that your little one will understand, like “I’ll be gone after lunchtime but be back after nap time”.
- Convey positive emotions whenever you’re separating from your baby. Your little one will pick up on your mood, and their emotions will mirror yours. If you smile confidently before leaving, they won’t be as scared. If you’re visibly nervous about leaving them, they’ll be worried too.
- When you tell your baby you’re leaving, mean what you say! Don’t go back into the room if your baby starts crying afterwards – it teaches your baby that they shouldn’t look for anybody else, and it extends the separation anxiety.
- Try spraying a bit of your everyday perfume onto something your baby can keep when you’re not there – such as a blanket, or one of their favourite toys. They will be reminded of you even when you’re not with them physically because they associate the smell with you.
- If you need to leave your baby with a new caregiver, you can try arranging times where you’ll all be together so that your little one gets used to this new person. Once they are familiar with them, you can then transition to leaving the two of them alone. This allows for an adjustment period to make things easier.
- Create a consistent separation ritual when you leave your baby. By following the same steps at the same time every day, your baby can start to trust that you will eventually return and this will help to ease their separation anxiety.