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How to Ease Separation Anxiety for You and Your Baby

Laura Agadoni
June 23, 2017

Separation anxiety is a normal part of growing up, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Here's how to make goodbyes a little easier for you and your baby.

 

 

You're about to head out the door for another day at the office when you hear your little one burst into tears behind you. Your maternal instincts kick in because you never want to see your baby upset. But when you're already late to an appointment and your child's separation anxiety is in full effect, what can you do? Rather than feeling guilty or upset, remember that this is normal, and you're not doing anything wrong. Here is some helpful guidance to get you and your baby through this time.
 

  • Remember: You're in This Together
    Separation anxiety is tough -- for both of you. Up until this stage, when you left the room, you were quite literally "out of sight, out of mind" as far as your baby was concerned. That all changes at about 9 months, when "a cognitive milestone called object permanence" sets in for your baby, explains Alyson Schafer, a psychotherapist and child-behavior author. Now, your baby realizes that you still exist, even when he can't find you. He may learn that crying can get you to come back, and he'll do just that when he misses you.

    You may feel mixed emotions when your baby displays separation anxiety. It's a little gratifying when your baby wants only you. But it's so sad, and it doesn't help the Mom Guilt-factor. Schafer explains that adults are often more distressed than their babies are and can project their thoughts into what the crying is about. She advises parents to build up your baby's belief that he is safe. Do this by "giving experiences of being away and then being reunited." In other words, you have to leave for your baby to learn that everything will be all right. It's also important to remember that babies don't understand the concept of time yet. When you're gone, your baby doesn't know if you'll ever come back. The emotions are the same for your baby whether you've gone to another room for a minute or have gone to the office for the day.
     
  • How Can You Help Your Baby?
    The mistake that many parents make, according to Schafer, is giving in to the crying. By not ever leaving your baby with someone else, you're not giving him the opportunity to learn resiliency. Here's what to try instead:
     
    • Cuddle and comfort. When you're with your little one, be sure to share in some serious cuddle time. It feels good for both of you, and it helps your baby become more secure. When your baby feels secure, he may be less anxious when you leave.
       
    • Hand your baby off briefly. Let a family member hold your baby while you take a shower. Someone is there to ensure that everything's okay, and you reunite with your baby after your shower. This helps your baby develop "psychological muscle," says Schafer. Your baby realizes that you were gone and nothing bad happened.
       
    • Leave your baby alone -- but not unsupervised. If you have a video baby monitor, you can leave your baby alone for short amounts of time -- just a few minutes at first. Announce your departure by saying "Mommy will be right back," and come right back. You are comfortable because you can keep an eye on things through the monitor, and your baby gains independence by being alone for a few minutes.
       
    • Grow the world of "others." Make sure when Grandma or friends visit, you let them hold the baby and play with him with you in another room. Build a network of family and trusted babysitters your baby starts to recognize. Your baby will begin to understand that he does survive when you're away, and being apart will become easier.
       
  • Know the Right Way to Say Goodbye
    One thing that parents should never do is "[try] to sneak away when your baby's not paying attention," says Amy Morin, a psychotherapist who counsels children and parents. "Your baby will think you've simply disappeared," which could make matters worse.

    "Ease your child's anxiety by saying goodbye," says Morin. "Your baby will pick up on your emotions when you're leaving. If you're crying or offering a prolonged goodbye because you're anxious about going, your baby is more likely to become anxious. Provide reassurance with a quick-yet-cheerful goodbye, rather than a long, drawn-out emotional departure." When your baby is first experiencing separation anxiety, try to schedule your departures when your baby is in a good mood, such as after a nap or after being fed. And once you leave, don't turn back. Just ask the sitter or caregiver to let you know when he calmed down.

Still feeling anxious? Morin suggests adopting this mantra: "Anxiety is part of the growing process." Reminding yourself of that can help you "walk away with more confidence that your baby's anxiety isn't harmful," she says. In fact, you'll both benefit from this experience.

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Laura Agadoni is a parenting writer and mom whose articles appear in various publications such as Modern Mom, The Penny Hoarder, Tom's of Maine, Global Post and Livestrong. 

* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.

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