Separation anxiety, though normal, can surprise many parents. Learn how to gently handle separation anxiety in babies with these tips.
My eight-month-old twins had been champion nappers. I’d put them in cribs and close the door, reassured they could put themselves to sleep in five minutes tops.
So imagine my surprise when one of them cried after I left the room. And cried and cried, with check-ins only making it worse.
After he “woke up,” he played happily in the living room—but fussed and cried if I walked away to the kitchen. “What happened to my sweet little boy who could play with his toys no problem whether I was in the room or not?”
Separation anxiety in babies usually begins around this time (and reincarnates in toddlerhood). It seems to occur out of nowhere. And it signals the baby’s understanding that their parents exist apart from them.
Before that, they were still in womb-land, thinking that we are all one and the same.
Only months later do they realize we’re separate people, and this notion scares them. Why? They realize that because we’re separate beings, we can leave. And they’re frightened we won’t come back.
How to gently handle separation anxiety in babies
Separation anxiety can be hard to cope with. But this phase can signal several impressive milestones and benefits:
- Their anxiety shows that they have developed a strong attachment to their loved ones, so much so that they will cry if you even leave their sight.
- They’re becoming more assertive. And they’re learning that their actions—crying, fussing—can have an impact on their surroundings.
- Overcoming normal adversity is positive, as it teaches them resilience.
Still, that doesn’t make this time in their lives all that pleasant. Thankfully there are several ways to handle separation anxiety.
Encourage attachment to other caregivers
Start early by introducing your baby to other caregivers. Grandparents, relatives and nannies signal to babies that they’re raised in a village. They’re in safe hands even without their parents.
Playing peek-a-boo teaches object permanence. It’s the idea that something or someone exists even if the baby can’t see them.
Talk or sing while you’re in another room
If you leave the room for a quick second, continue to talk or sing to your baby. Hearing your voice may reassure her that you’re still around, even if she can’t see you just yet.
Offer a special toy
Some kids can develop attachment to special toys or blankies. Give a comfort item so that your baby can feel reassured in your absence.
Stick to routines
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Whether your baby cries at sleep times or when you walk out the door, create a routine so that he knows what to expect. Routines provides a much-needed normalcy in their lives. It’s especially useful when they’re going through stages such as separation anxiety.
At nap times, you may want to draw the curtains, sing a few songs and read a book or two each time you put your baby to sleep.
Say goodbye—calmly and quickly
Don’t sneak out on your baby, no matter how much it hurts to hear her cry when she knows you’re leaving. Sneaking off only will make her feel more anxious in the future, as she doesn’t know if you’ve left or not.
And explain to your baby that it’s time to take a nap, and that you’ll see him shortly after. Keep your goodbyes simple—crazy fan fare makes your baby think your absence a bigger deal than it is.
Make it a happy reunion
It’s easy for us not to fret for the two minutes we were in the bathroom and away from our babies. But to them, those two minutes could feel like an eternity. They wondered whether we were going to come back to them or not.
So when you do, make it a joyous moment. Reassure him you’re here and that you had just gone to the bathroom, and that you’re happy to see him too.
Read books about separation anxiety
Help your baby cope with separation anxiety by reading books about it. Reading introduces new concepts and words to reassure him of his own feelings. Books will also remind you that your baby’s behavior, though surprising and frustrating, is normal for his age.
Looking for a few book ideas? Check out these 10 children’s books about separation anxiety.
Above all, treat babies with respect
You wouldn’t think about leaving the house without saying goodbye to your husband. The same is true for your baby. Since babies don’t talk yet, we overlook their needs or forget to treat them as we would others. Simple ways to treat them with respect during separation anxiety include:
- Saying goodbye and hello
- Explaining where we’re going
- Reassuring them that mama’s right outside in the living room while they nap
- Telling them how proud we are of them for trying to nap
- Reminding them how much we missed them while we were away
- Describing what they must be feeling (“Are you scared when you don’t see mama?”)
My little guy tapered off his separation anxiety and is back to napping and playing. In hindsight, I wish I had done more describing his feelings and explaining what’s going on.
But I made sure not to make him feel bad for what he was going through. Separation anxiety is normal, after all, and one that many babies goes through.
It reminds us of just how much our babies can love, so much so that even two minutes apart is just two minutes too long.
p.s. Struggling with putting your baby to sleep? Wish he could learn to self soothe and sleep on his own? Join my newsletter and discover the 5 mistakes that are keeping your baby from self-soothing!
Whether you’ve tried to teach your baby to self soothe in the past or are just now considering it, take a look at the 5 key mistakes to avoid. Download my resource below—at no cost to you:
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Get more tips on handling your child’s separation anxiety:
- 10 Children’s Books about Separation Anxiety
- What You Should Know about Separation Anxiety
- How to Deal when Your Child Cries at Drop Off
- How to Get Things Done with a Baby
- Extracurricular Activities: My Child Freaks Out and Clings Onto Me
What are some of your experiences with separation anxiety in babies? When did your babies first exhibit this emotion?
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