Introducing your baby to other people is just one of the many ways you can ease the pain and stress of separation anxiety for both baby and you.
It happens with every baby. Between the ages of 6 and 12 months, she may be sweet and outgoing. Then, enter another person — a sitter or even a relative — and your happy-go-lucky baby becomes clingy and scared, and often begins to cry. Leave her alone with that person, and the crying can quickly escalate to screaming.
Separation anxiety is a sign that your baby is growing up, suddenly aware that there is a world of unknown people beyond her parents. Despite the stress and guilt that leaving her is likely to cause, separation anxiety is an essential part of every baby's normal development. How you handle it can make this transition in her life smoother or more difficult.
Separation Anxiety: Understanding Why and When
Separation anxiety occurs in babies as they start to develop a better sense of the world. "They begin to understand differences between people," says Richard Gallagher, PhD, assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University Medical Center. "It's important for parents to recognize that it's typical. Parents can provide some indication that this is going to be okay, provide support, and then make the separation as short as possible."
Separation anxiety usually wanes during the last half of your baby's second year. Until then it can be a rollercoaster of emotions for parents, too, ranging from guilt for upsetting your baby — however briefly — to anxiety about her clinginess. The goal is to minimize the stress of these situations while reassuring your child that you love her. Here are some suggestions for easing your way through this part of your child's development.
Soothe Separation Anxiety in Baby — and You
Don't let separation anxiety keep you from exposing your child to other individuals. With a little planning and loving reassurance your baby will be smiling at friends and family in no time. Follow these tips:
Soothe yourself. Recognize that separation anxiety is normal. It's not something you caused or did wrong.
Practice short separations. Your baby can experience separation anxiety the minute you're out of sight, even if you've just stepped into the kitchen for a cup of tea. When she crawls to a different space (that is, of course, baby-proofed) wait a minute or two before retrieving her. If you have to go to another area of your home, tell her you'll be back. If she cries, call to her while you're in the next room instead of rushing to get her.
Expose your baby to others early in life. "Kids should be involved with a number of people as they grow up," Gallagher says. If your child shows distress while being held by someone else, don't overreact and swoop in and take her away from the other person.
Be prepared for bedtime. Separation anxiety is common during this time, so be extra tender when you tuck baby in for the night. "It's helpful for parents to comfort kids and let them know, through soothing words, that it's okay and that they will still love them and be there for them," says Gallagher.
Depart after she's had a nap and been fed. Babies are likely to have a tougher time if you leave when they are tired, hungry, or sick. If possible, try not to have periods of separation when she isn't feeling well.
Employ distraction. Have your sitter or other caregiver create a distraction while you're leaving. Then leave as quickly as possible.
Watch how you react. It's hard to do, but try to avoid responding to your baby's reaction as if this is a disastrous experience. If you panic every time you get ready to leave, baby will get panicky, too.
Carve out a few extra minutes. Before leaving your child at daycare or at a sitter's house, spend a little time playing with your child. Then reassure her that you'll be back soon.
Take comfort. When you leave, the waterworks will most likely stop. Her tears are for you to see and will subside shortly after you leave. So, as distressing as her tears may be for you, make a quick getaway and rest assured that she'll calm down soon after you leave.