Separation anxiety is a really common stage of your baby’s development and usually starts around the ages of six to eight-months-old. While it can be hard for your baby – and for you – the good news is they usually grow out of it.
As a parent, it can be really upsetting to hear your baby cry when you leave the room … which, if she’s got full blown separation anxiety, will happen even if you’re only popping to the loo!
It usually develops when your baby starts to distinguish one person from another and realises you are separate to her. This realisation can literally happen overnight and often sees your baby going from being happy to being held by other people to being in tears if the person holding her isn’t you. This newly developed clinginess can be a huge shock to parents.
But this stage of your baby’s development is an incredibly positive sign (even though it might not feel like it!) because it demonstrates how attached she is to you. It’s also totally normal and most babies will go through it at some stage.
It’s important not to feel guilty when she cries, although we know this is easier said than done. Remember that it is good for her development and sense of independence to know people leave … but then they come back.
What are the signs of separation anxiety in babies?
You’ll know your baby has separation anxiety if she cries when you, or anyone looking after her, goes out of sight.
Other signs of separation anxiety in babies include:
Your baby cries if she is left with someone else.
It could be anyone from your childminder to your own mum … if your baby has separation anxiety, the only person she wants is you. And as before, even though it definitely won’t feel like it, this is a good sign that she trusts you and has developed a strong bond with you.
Your baby doesn’t want to play on her own.
Even if your baby was always quite happy to play with her favorite toy on her own, this may no longer be the case if she has separation anxiety. Instead, she’ll want you to be next to her and will get upset if you leave. This is down to her not yet understanding ‘object permanence’.
For your baby, when she can no longer see something, it no longer exists. Which is precisely how she feels about you when you disappear from sight.
Your baby might start to have problems sleeping.
You’ve just got their sleeping sorted – and then separation anxiety means it’s disrupted again, with them waking up throughout the night. Even something as simple as bedtime can be a cause of anxiety for your baby. When you leave their room, they have no way of knowing if you will come back.
Some parents find this night time separation anxiety appears again around 18 months and 2-years-old – both of which are times of sleep regression.
Your baby might start waking up early.
Again, this feeling of anxiety can cause your baby to wake up early and then not be able to go back to sleep.
How to deal with separation anxiety
Most babies grow out of separation anxiety, although it can develop again when your child is around two-years-old. This is the age she starts to become aware of her own independence.
There are ways to help your baby understand – and deal with – her feelings of anxiety about being apart from you. This in turn will help her feel more secure and know that when you leave, you will be coming back.
Practice short separations
If your baby is showing signs of anxiety about being apart from you, it might help do some practice runs.
To start with, leave her with a friend or family member for a few minutes. Then each time you leave, gradually build up to a longer period of time.
Never leave without saying goodbye…
It can be tempting to dash off when your baby isn’t looking in the hope this will stop her getting upset. In reality she is more likely to be more upset that you’ve suddenly vanished.
nstead, make your ‘goodbye’ a positive thing
If you look – and act – happy and relaxed about your goodbye, your baby will (in time) mirror that. On the flipside, if you are anxious about leaving her, she’s likely to pick up on those emotions.
Keep it short
Make your goodbye short but positive – give her a kiss and wave goodbye before leaving. And even if you can hear her crying as you leave, don’t go back into the room. This will only prolong her upset.
Give your baby something that reminds her of you
Some parents sleep with the clothes their baby is going to wear the following day. This means they then smell of you, and can give your baby comfort. Alternatively make sure your baby has a familiar toy that she can cuddle. This can help reassure and comfort her until you return.
What to do if you’re worried about your baby’s separation anxiety
If you’re concerned that your baby’s separation anxiety is continuing to cause her a lot of upset, talk to your health visitor.