Anxiety and separation anxiety with baby: what to do?
Written by: Loris Vitry (coach and Yoga teacher)
Validated by: Cathy Maillot (Osteopath)
Caution: If you have any medical questions or concerns, please speak to your doctor. Even if the articles on this site are based on scientific studies, they do not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Tears and anger “goodbyes” are common during a child’s early years.
Around the first birthday, many children develop separation anxiety, getting angry when a parent tries to leave them with someone else.
Although separation anxiety is a normal part of a child’s development, it can be troubling.
Understanding what your child is going through and preparing some coping strategies can help you both cope.
About separation anxiety
Babies adapt quite well to babysitters or anyone else who takes care of them.
Parents are likely to feel more anxiety about being separated from their offspring than babies themselves.
As long as their needs are met, most babies under 6 months of age easily adjust to other people.
Between 4 and 7 months, babies develop a feeling of “object permanence”.
They realize that things and people exist even when they are out of sight.
Also, they learn that when they can’t see their mom or dad, it means they are gone.
They don’t understand the concept of time, so they don’t know that Mom will be back, and therefore, may be upset by her absence.
Whether mom is in the kitchen, next room, or office, the same goes for the baby, who will cry until she is by her side again.
When does separation anxiety start and how long does it last?
From 8 months to 1 year babies grow into more independent toddlers, but they are even more uncertain about their separation from the parent, as this is usually when separation anxiety develops.
They will therefore become agitated and upset when a parent tries to leave.
Whether you need to go into the next room for just a few seconds, leave your child with a nanny for the evening, or drop them off at daycare, they might respond by crying, clinging to you, or resisting other.
The timing of separation anxiety can vary.
Some may experience it later, between 18 months and 2.5 years.
Others will never live it.
The triggers for feelings of anxiety related to a parent’s separation are often trivial situations such as: the stress of life, a new nanny, a new sibling, a move or tensions at home.
As for its duration, it varies depending on the child and the reaction of the parent.
In some cases, it lasts until elementary school.
Separation, a temporary “farewell”
Remember that this phase is just fleeting.
The anxiety of separation causes various emotions to be felt.
It is nice to feel that your child is as attached to you as you are to them.
But you also might feel guilty about taking time for yourself, leaving it, or going to work, and you might start to feel overwhelmed by the amount of attention your child seems to want from you.
Yet, this is a good sign that healthy attachment bonds have developed between you.
Your child will eventually remember that you always come back after you leave, and this will comfort him enough while you are away.
This will also give him the possibility of developing adaptive and independent capacities.
Solution: How to help your baby?
Here are some tips that will help you and your baby through this difficult stage:
Timing is essential
Avoid starting daycare or nursery with an unknown person when your child is 8 months to 1 year old, when separation anxiety first appears.
Also, avoid leaving when tired, hungry, or restless.
If possible, plan your departures after naps and meals.
Practice being apart from each other and slowly introduce new people and places.
If you plan to leave your child with a loved one or a new babysitter, invite that person in advance so that they can spend time with your baby while you are in the same room.
If your child is starting at a new nursery or preschool, make a few visits together before starting a full-time schedule.
Then leave your child with a nanny for short periods of time to get used to being away from you.
Be calm and consistent
Create an exit ritual in which you say a pleasant, loving, and firm goodbye.
Stay calm and reassure them by telling them when and when you will be back, using concepts the children understand (such as after lunch).
Give her your undivided attention when you say goodbye, be sincere, and really walk away at the risk of making things worse.
Keep your promises
Make sure to come back if you promised.
This is essential, because this way your child will develop confidence in you.
If you are caring for someone else’s child, try to distract them with some fun activity, toy, songs, games, or anything else until they calm down.
Above all, don’t mention his mother or father, but talk to him in a simple and direct manner.
You could say, for example, “Mum and dad will come back as soon as they finish dinner, let’s go play with the toys.”
Watch out for alarming symptoms
If separation anxiety persists until grade school or beyond and interferes with daily activities, talk to your doctor.
It could be a rare but more serious condition known as separation anxiety disorder.
Children with this disease fear that they will be lost or left behind by loved ones and are often convinced that something bad is going to happen to them.
It is accompanied by certain signs, including:
- Panic symptoms: nausea, vomiting or shortness of breath, panic attacks before a parent leaves;
- Nightmares about separation;
- Fear of sleeping alone (although this is also common in children with no signs of illness);
- The excessive worry of getting lost, kidnapped or going to places without parents.
As difficult as it can be to let a child cry and cry for you, it is important to be confident in the caregiver’s ability to handle this situation.
However, trust your instincts: if your child refuses to go to a certain nanny, a certain daycare, or shows exaggerated signs of stress, know that there could be a custody problem.