All babies usually experience some degree of separation anxiety. It is a normal stage of development that begins when babies begin to understand object permanence--that things (and people!) exist even when you can't see them or they are not there.
Babies can start showing signs of separation anxiety around 6 months, but a lot of times, separation anxiety will peak between 10-18 months. Some babies may continue to demonstrate signs of separation anxiety throughout toddlerhood and as they enter preschool.
Although at times, your baby's separation anxiety (and tears and tantrums!) can be frustrating and upsetting, try to look at it in a positive way. Your baby is smart and has learned that he can depend on you and has become attached to you. And remember, this too shall pass. In the meantime, here are some tips to help your baby (and you) cope with separation anxiety.
You've probably played peek-a-boo with your baby ever since they were . . . well, a baby! Peek-a-boo and other hide and seek games are great ways to introduce the concept of object permanence to your little one. They are learning that even though something goes away, even if it's under a blanket or behind their hands, it's still there. Playing peek-a-boo by gently covering your baby's head with a blanket, or ducking and hiding behind the furniture are ways to show your baby that even if you go away, you will return!
When your baby gets a little older, start practicing some goodbyes. Leave your baby safely in his crib or playpen and tell him that you're going into the other room. Wave goodbye and make your exit. Stay out of the room for a minute or two before returning. This way your baby will learn that everything will be okay when you're gone and that you'll also eventually come back!
You can also let your baby be the one to leave. If your baby is crawling around and your house is adequately baby proofed, let them crawl off into another room on their own. They'll get to experience some time alone, but will learn that they can find their way back to you because you're still where they left you!
When choosing babysitters or caretakers, it's best to start with someone your baby already knows. Whether it's grandma and grandpa or a close friend, your baby will probably be more comfortable around someone they've already spent some time with. Although your baby may still become upset when you leave, they will probably be comforted more quickly by someone they are already accustomed to being with.
If you need to leave your baby with a new caretaker, spend some time letting your baby get to know them first. Plan some visits where the baby can spend time with both of you and see the two of you interacting. Then, the first time you plan to leave your baby alone with the caretaker, arrange to have them arrive about half an hour early so the baby can adjust to spending time with them before you go.
If your baby is going to be spending time at someone's house or at a daycare while you're gone, you'll want to make several trips there together so your baby can get acquainted with his new surroundings. Let your baby explore and wander around so they aren't separated from you and then placed in unfamiliar territory. It can also help to have some of their toys or belongings there to remind them of home.
Don't jump right in with an overnight trip away from your little one. Start small. Leave your baby with a caretaker and take a half an hour to run some quick errands. Gradually extend the amount of time you're gone to an hour and then longer, so your baby (and you) are eventually comfortable with longer outings.
If your little one is hungry, tired, or sick, chances are they're already going to be cranky or fussy. This can make your goodbyes even harder. If possible, schedule your departure for after mealtime and naps so your baby is in a good mood.
Your baby is playing happily and it's time for you to go but you don't want to upset your little one. It might be tempting to just sneak out the door without saying goodbye but don't do this! Your baby will become even more upset if they think you've just vanished into thin air. You might know how long you'll be gone and what time you'll be back, but your baby won't have any idea. Don't trick them. Say your goodbyes and make sure the caretaker has something ready to distract your baby with as soon as you're gone.
Even though your baby's just a baby, explain to them what you're doing. Be specific. Let them know you're leaving, and that you'll be back soon. Provide kid-friendly details that your child will eventually be able to understand. For example, explain to your child you'll be back "after your nap and before you have your snack" or "after your bottle and before you take your nap." They will eventually be able to make the connections between what you tell them and what happens.
Your baby can pick up on how you're feeling, so try not to cry or get upset if your baby starts crying. That can make things worse! Keep a smile on your face, give hugs and kisses, tell your baby when you'll be back, wave bye-bye, and head out the door. Make your departure cheerful and quick. Your baby might become upset as you're leaving, but will probably be much easier to console.
It's perfectly normal and healthy for your baby to cry when you leave, so don't discourage it or try to stop them. Your baby is becoming attached to you and is learning to express their feelings about it--an important step in understanding and being able to control their emotions.
But because your tiny tot is crying, that doesn't mean you should drag out your departure and try to comfort him. It might be hard but stick with the script: say your goodbyes, hand him over, and make your exit. The sooner you can do that, the sooner your baby will calm down, and the sooner you'll stop feeling guilty!
Try using the same goodbye rituals every time you leave or drop off your little one. Do the same hug, kiss, goodbye, and a wave every time, and keep it short and sweet. Creating this routine builds familiarity and reassurance that everything will be okay, just like it was last time!
Leave detailed notes for the caretaker, too, if you can. Give them directions for routines, bottles, meals, and bedtime. This way they can stick to the schedule that your baby is used to, which can be comforting for them--and you, too!
Make sure your baby has things around to remind him of you when you're gone. This can be a stuffed animal, a blanket, or even a T-shirt that smells like you. That way, your baby has something familiar and comforting to cuddle with at nap time! Studies have shown that a baby who cuddles with a lovey or comfort object has consistently had their needs for love and attention met by their parents.
If your baby starts to cry when you leave, you might want to try calming him or soothing him before you go. But before you go rushing in for one more kiss or cuddle, steel your nerves and head for the door. Going back into the house or daycare center after you've already said goodbye and left is only going to make things harder on you, the baby, and the caretaker. You've left your little one in responsible hands, now go and do what you need to do.
You stress and worry and make such a big deal about leaving your little one for a little while, but don't forget to make a big deal about your return! If your child is in the middle of a game or is playing with a toy, get down and join them. Celebrate your reunion by exchanging big hugs and kisses or doing a crazy happy dance. Make a big deal about coming home and being together again. These kinds of celebrations help remind your child that even though it's sad when mommy and daddy go away, it's great to be together again!