When do babies have separation anxiety? Tips for making the process less painful
There comes the moment in your life that you have to return to work or simply want to go out for a couple of hours and leave your baby with a nanny or grandma. In many cases it seems impossible when your little dictator starts to scream in horror, like somebody is actually hurting him.
If you hear this terrible cry every time you leave the house, or even the room, you might be dealing with the separation anxiety.
But don’t worry, it’s a natural and healthy process of your baby’s development. There are few things you can do to lessen the drama time when babies have separation anxiety.
Why it happens
If you were one of the lucky ones with a calm baby that was not scared of anyone, now you probably cannot make a sense of why that little angel changed so much.
But separation anxiety is actually a sign of maturity (no matter how ridiculous it sounds); babies start to realize that they are not independent just yet and have to rely on anyone that cares for them. Being aware of that, they might get frustrated with new situations or with new people. They will get especially upset when they can no longer see you. Feeling unsafe, they will not hesitate to show the world how much it bothers them.
When it happens
Separation anxiety and fear of strangers usually happens between the ages of 6 months and 3 years. But don’t stress out (or at least try not to); it’s a common thing within young children and they will grow out of it.
It will be hard for you once you have to leave your baby in the nursery or with a nanny for longer periods of time. She will cry and, most likely, so will you- it’s distressing for both sides. Just remember that you are not damaging your little one in any way- quite the opposite. You are teaching her how to cope without you as you won’t be there for her forever. She needs to learn how to be more independent (and this lesson will go on until the age of 18 or longer, let’s face it!).
What can you do to stop it
There’s no easy way to stop the separation anxiety but rather make it less painful for the both of you.
To help your baby feel more secure, focus on her feelings and how to deal with them . Your little one will learn that if you leave them nothing bad will happen and it doesn’t mean you are never coming back. If your baby’s old enough, you can try to explain the situation- tell them where you’re going and when you’ll be with them again.
Other things you could do :
- start to slowly separate yourself from your baby- go for a long walk (by yourself), visit a friend or go to the gym. If you disappear from her sight for an hour or two she will get to see that time spent with her daddy or granny can be as much fun as with mummy
- talk to them about plans- if your child is older and can already understand things, start speaking about what will you do together after you come back. Keep it positive so that your little one has something to look forward to.
- leave a comforting toy- this one really worked on my daughter. Introducing a soft toy can make her desperate outbursts easier to handle. Buy a plush toy, such as Bashful Bunny (one of the softest on the market), show your baby how to cuddle it, make sure she plays with it on a daily basis and take it everywhere you go. Once she gets to know that the bunny is her friend and will always be there for her, she should pass all her anxiety and anger onto the toy (there’s a reason they call it a comforter, right?). Tip: buy 2 exactly the same plush toys; in case one of them gets lost you will be covered.
- attend play sessions or organize play dates – this way your baby will have a chance to be around other children and see how fun it can be. You will still need to be close to her, especially in the beginning but the more often you do it, the better. With time, when it becomes a routine for both of you, she may start leaving her comfort zone and stop paying attention if you’re always next to her (and that’s already a big progress, yaay!).
- if you’re hiring a nanny, make sure she spends time with you and your baby for a couple of days so your little one can get used to that person.
When to seek professional help
As mentioned before, it is natural for babies and toddlers to be upset and cry when their parents are going away. But the older the babies get, the easier it should be for them to understand that people and things exist even when they’re out of their sight.
Until that happens, it’s crucial their anxiety doesn’t stop them from gaining new experiences such as learning new skills, socializing with other babies (or adults) and enjoying their time at the nursery. And it definitely shouldn’t stop you going back to work.
However, in some cases it may turn out that your disappearance is causing your child a lot of distress. If your baby cries for a long time after you have left and she hasn’t got used to being apart after a few weeks, it is best to talk to your GP or health visitor.
Do you have any other valuable tips on how to deal with separation anxiety? Please share your experience in the comments below. Other mamas will be surely grateful!