Learning to master the art of being independent can be tricky for a transitioning toddler. Although it may seem like a bad habit to enjoy clinging to “mommy and daddy,” this period can be a stage of development, even if it is challenging. If your baby seems to panic when you leave the room, she might be suffering from separation anxiety.
We know how stressful and frustrating it can be to not be able to leave your baby with someone else. That is why we recommend having someone available to help you with your child when the anxiety gets too high.
Though it may seem like you are crazy at the time, your baby is normal if they are showing signs of separation anxiety. This can happen at around 7-9 months old and may last until they are around 18 months old. Today we will be sharing what it is, why it happens, and some tips on how to soothe your little one when they are crying due to separation anxiety.
Do you Know What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is a normal part of development. It can affect any child who does not want to be apart from one or both parents. As a parent, you may feel uncomfortable when your baby cries, but remember this developmental stage will pass soon.
Separation anxiety starts when babies are developing an understanding of their sense of self. When they realize that Mommy or Daddy leaves them, they panic and worry that they will not find the same comfort with a babysitter, caregiver, or a new parent.
Though it may seem hard to believe, your child’s crying when you leave the room is a good sign. It means that your child has developed an understanding of object permanence (the ability to understand that objects continue to exist even when they are no longer in sight).
As your child grows, they will develop a stronger attachment to you. This means they have a healthy bond with you, and it is resulting in a more selective social behavior: They might prefer to play with siblings and family over their friends and vice versa.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of development. It is present in most children at some point, but if your child has anxiety about being separated from you and is not able to be on their own or away from you long enough to explore and get used to it, this might be a sign that they need some extra emotional support.
At what age duration do babies develop separation anxiety?
From a developmental standpoint, separation anxiety takes shape in most children between 8 and 12 months. This natural fear is triggered by the brain’s development; even though babies still cannot recall their parents when they leave the room, they can now hold an image of them in their minds. This strengthens “object permanence,” or the ability to remember objects and people even if you cannot see them.
Signs and symptoms of separation anxiety
Signs of separation anxiety include clinging, crying, and temper tantrums. Children who have separation anxiety may also refuse to do things that would typically require separation, like sleepovers or play dates, and they may wake during the night or early in the morning crying out and looking for their parents.
If your baby has separation anxiety points to remember
There are many ways parents can help their children learn to be happy in social situations and overcome separation anxiety. The following tips are some of the best practices for helping your child overcome his fear of being away from you.
1. Use familiar objects such as a blanket, toy, or pacifier to help with your baby’s routine when you leave. This will allow them to know that you will be coming back and will put their mind at ease.
2. Let them know before leaving that you will be gone for a specific amount of time, to let them know you will be back soon.
3. Give your baby something interesting to do when you leave, like a puzzle or toys with buttons or knobs on them that they can play with.
4. Leave your baby with an older sibling or friend of the same gender in your absence.
5. Enlist your child’s sibling/friends/cousins to help when you will be gone longer – ask that they look after your child while you are out and set guidelines, so they do not overdo it and get tired themselves.
How long does separation anxiety last?
Separation anxiety can be discouraging and difficult to deal with — it is normal to feel upset if your child is unhappy when you leave, but it does not mean there is something wrong with him. Most children outgrow separation anxiety by around 3 years of age and enjoy a normal, healthy development. Check out the resources below for more information about separation anxiety in toddlers and pre-schoolers, including tips on helping your child adjust. As a parent, it helps to remember that separation anxiety runs in families and is common in young children. Kids who have separation anxiety usually have no other concerns, so the focus should be on reassuring your child.
Separation anxiety during the nighttime
Many children experience separation anxiety, but the key is to discover the right way to help a child who shows signs of being afraid at night. The first step is to identify what might be behind the toddler’s worry – is she alone in her room, or is she worried about you leaving?
Separation anxiety is a common problem for babies. When they are sleeping next to you, they can feel safe and secure. But your baby will have to learn how to fall asleep alone. That is why they need to sleep in their bed. If you use these tips, your baby may fall asleep faster and sleep better on their own:
- It can be especially challenging to deal with separation anxiety when you decide to enforce a bedtime routine. But as they grow, parents will begin to see the benefits of sleeping in a routine and will not feel so bad about needing to lay down some (firm) rules at bedtime.
- Having a consistent bedtime routine may help. It offers your child the comfort of familiarity and guides her through the relaxation process. Start this routine early on in her life, and it will help her to settle down for the night more quickly. It will also help your child develop discipline and responsibility, which she will need as she gets older.
- Your baby is learning how to fall asleep on its own. Around the time that your baby turns three months, they should be able to go to sleep without your help. You have been doing a great job soothing them when they wake up at night and learning to go back to sleep on their own.
- When your child cries at night, take them out of the crib and go to the next room. Sing or talk quietly in a soothing tone while rubbing a circular motion on their back to help them fall asleep on their own. This is much better for your child’s development—and you will be more likely to get a full night’s rest.
- Infants and children with separation anxiety may reassure themselves by having certain objects, people, or comforting routines close by. Night-time is the scariest time as they are alone in their room and cannot see their parents.
- Reassure your child right before bedtime that you are just down the hall in the next room. If your child is afraid of the dark, turn on soft nightlights, rather than bright overhead lights. They will provide just enough light to comfort and guide your child to the bathroom.
It is tough putting your baby in daycare or with a babysitter. That is why it is important to remember that separation anxiety should be temporary, and it passes after a few weeks. Separation anxiety is a completely normal part of your child’s development. Do not be upset if your baby cries when you leave her with a sitter or in daycare. If the care providers are caring for your baby the way you would, you can be reassured that this stage will pass. And even though your baby will still miss you and may have a few tears when he first sees you after work, remember that your child feels secure in knowing that his primary attachment figure is always nearby.
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