For new parents, getting used to separation anxiety can be a huge challenge. No one wants to see their child burst into tears or throw a tantrum every time you want to go out. But did you know that it’s usually at about eight months that a baby first feels any separation anxiety? For most of us, the idea of time spent apart from our kids can make our blood run cold. But really, it’s just a phase. Separation anxiety disappears around age 2.
Facts to Help Parents Understand Separation Anxiety
- Know the milestones. Babies tend to become clingy at about 8 months. Just when you think it’s over, a second bout is likely to start up at about 18 months. All this usually fades away by the second birthday.
- Understand the psychology. Small babies lack enough experience to notice unusual events. It takes a while for them to realize that you are missing. At about 2 years old, they figure out that you always come back, and they like some independence.
- When you need to talk to a doctor. About 5% of children may need additional help to overcome anxiety. Your physician can recommend what to do if a child shows signs of physical distress or if a child over 5 has fears that interfere with going to school or playing with friends.
Read Also [How to manage Stress, Anxiety, and Fear]
Parenting Strategies to Help Deal with Separation Anxiety
- Say goodbye. You may be tempted to try sneaking away, but that will backfire. It’s less scary for your child if you make eye contact and say goodbye directly.
- Minimize drama. The best departures are brief. If possible, time them for when your child is well-rested and fed. But do not get into the habit of tricking your child. Don’t try the age-old trick of telling your child to go and bring their shoes, then you leave while they leave the room. This simply adds to their insecurity and they get even more anxious.
- Keep talking. If you need to move to another room, your baby may feel more secure if they can hear your voice. Tell them about what you’re doing or sing a favourite song.
- Let your child get acquainted with other caregivers. Introduce nannies and other caregivers before leaving them alone with a child. Rehearse by going out for a short while before you graduate to leaving them alone all day with the caregiver. This is particularly helpful for mums who are about to end their maternity leave.
- You might want to use a comforting object. Make it a ritual to give your child a stuffed toy or blanket while you’re gone. They can hold onto it until you return.
- Play games. Have fun with the experience. Tell older children where you’re going and what time you’ll be back. Quiz them on it later.
- Offer rewards. Create something to look forward to. Share a hug and tell your child how much you missed them. Read a book together or make crafts.
- Reassure your partner. Children generally focus on the parent they spend the most time with, so the other partner may feel left out. Discuss your feelings and support each other.
- Plan for going back to work. If you can pull it off, you may want to let your baby’s comfort levels increase before scheduling your return to the office. Starting out with part-time hours can also ease the transition.
- Rule out other causes. Children will outgrow most of this clinginess and crying on their own. At the same time, you want to spot any more serious causes like fever or other illness.
- Expect setbacks. Stressful events will make a child hang on tighter. Be prepared to provide extra comfort if your child will be having surgery or your family is moving to a new house.
- Recognize your own anxieties. Children pick up on their parent’s thoughts. If you are calm and cheerful, your child will probably decide that everything is okay.
You’ll feel better if you remember that most children quickly get over their tears after you’re out the door. Be patient and look forward to the day when parting will be a lot easier for you and your child.