The tears and fears related to being apart from Mom or Dad can resurface in the toddler and preschool years, posing new challenges for parents and warranting different solutions. As disheartening as that may sound, it can be very helpful to remember that separation anxiety is completely normal, even healthy. From the earliest years of life, we should want children to encounter ordinary adversity because it’s practice for building resilience.
I had heard about separation anxiety and how hard it is for the parents to deal with it so when it never happened with my son A I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I thought theirs no way I could emotionally handle seeing my son completely lose it so this is wonderful that he doesn’t seem to be bothered. Until one day I got my purse and went to walk out the front door and A just lost it, he went from totally content and cooing to screaming so loud he couldn’t breath. I threw my purse down and ran to him scooped him up and wrapped my arms around him and he instantly became calm. He laid his head on my shoulder and let out a comfortable sigh and then I realized wow I just screwed up.
From then on every time I would leave the room or go outside or leave to run an errand he would scream bloody murder until I would pick him up and hold him in my arms and repeat everything will be okay. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was only making the situation worse with every rescue I would perform when he threw his tantrum. The development of separation anxiety demonstrates that your baby has formed a healthy, loving attachment to you. It is a sign that your baby associates pleasure, comfort and security with your presence. It also indicates that your baby is developing intellectually (in other words, she/he is smart!). Your baby has learned that he/she can have an effect on their world when he/she makes his/her needs known and he/she doesn’t have to passively accept a situation that makes him/her uncomfortable.
- Separation anxiety is a normal (and positive) developmental stage that most babies experience between seven and 18 months.
- The development of separation anxiety shows your baby has established a healthy bond with you and that she is developing intellectually.
- Your infant may be experiencing separation anxiety if he/she becomes clingy, afraid of strangers and cries when you’re out of sight but is easily comforted in your arms.
- Give your baby lessons in object permanence with games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek and practice with quick, safe separations (go into another room and whistle, sing, or talk to your baby so he/she knows you’re still there, even though he/she can’t see you).
- Don’t sneak away when you have to leave him/her–tell your baby what to expect and express a positive attitude when leaving him/her.
I literally had to start just forcing myself to leave the house to help A understand that yes I was leaving but I would be back. Then I started leaving him in the next room and I would talk to him or whistle or sing to him, so that he could hear me and know I was still there but couldn’t physically see me. Over the course of 3 months he got to the point where he was okay when I left the room. Being a stay at home mom seems to make it worse when I do have to go run an errand sans A. I feel like our bond is so strong because I am his main caregiver, I spend the most time with him, feed him the majority of his meals, play with him the most so it’s natural for him to be super clingy with me. Much of this learning is based on trust, which, just as for every human being young or old, takes time to build.
It’s so hard sometimes because my natural instinct is to run to him when he’s upset and crying, to make all the sadness go away but I know that what he really needs is for me to be strong for him. Being strong for A in this regard is a lot harder than you’d think, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t still get to me to this day. I have to remember that he feeds off of my energy and behavior and he will decide his reaction based off of my demeanor. Your baby will absorb your emotions, so if you’re nervous about leaving him/her, he/she will be nervous as well. Your confidence will help alleviate his/her fears.
One consistent companion you have when dealing with your child and baby separation anxiety, is your parental instinct, or in other words, your gut feeling.