What is separation anxiety?

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What is separation anxiety?

Let’s pretend your baby’s 9-month birthday is coming up, and you want to throw a par-TAY. You’ve hired a sitter for a few hours so that you can hit the stores and take care of some important birthday-your baby business before it’s time for cake and the Stage 3 baby food equivalent. But just as you’re preparing to head out the door, your baby begins to bawl. “That’s weird,” you think. “I've gone to the store before. Why the sudden tears?” Last minute meltdowns like these are quite common, and they tend to happen during an upsetting but often-inevitable stage of early childhood: separation anxiety.

When does it happen? And why?

Many babies start to exhibit signs of separation anxiety around the time between 10 and 18 months. By this point, your baby will have begun to grasp the concept of object permanence - that is, the idea that something can still exist when it’s not present. So when you, her number one nurturer, are about to leave for work or some errands, the implication for your baby is clear: my protector is going away, and there’s no telling when they’ll be back. This realization can turn on the waterworks faster than cutting a raw onion.

How can I make separations easier for your baby?

Babies eventually grow out of separation anxiety, but in the meantime, the most effective and obvious step you can take is to minimizing the time when you're apart as much as possible - for example, by taking your baby with you on errands when you can. If this isn’t an option, leaving her with a sitter your baby already knows and enjoys, like a friend or a family member, can put her in a calmer state of mind.

What if your baby’s anxiety gets worse?

Remember, your baby is developing at her own speed. It might take as little as a few weeks for her to kick separation anxiety, but it could take longer. If your baby seems to be growing more anxious about your leaving, consider how you leave. Drawing out each goodbye with a lingering bear hug and a slow Hollywood walk out the door will only emphasize your impending absence. Instead, try going with a quick kiss and a casual “Catch you later, snuggle bug.” Another way to soothe your baby’s nerves is to apply an interval training approach to separations. Start by leaving your baby with someone familiar for brief periods of time - say, 30 minutes - and then gradually work your way up to leaving her with a sitter for upwards of an hour.

The bottom line

Sooner or later, your baby will start to understand that you are, in fact, coming back and there is nothing to worry about. However, those first few weeks or months of separation anxiety can be tough for both parents and babies, so it’s important to stay strong.

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