Separation Anxiety In Babies: How To Handle – Read To Know 2024
Many babies develop separation anxiety as a normal part of development. Baby separation anxiety can start at around six months old when a baby begins to familiarize themselves with their surroundings.
Witnessing separation anxiety as a caregiver can be tough—seeing your baby’s tears is never easy. You want to support your baby however possible, but separation is inevitable. It’s reassuring to know that there are ways you can help relieve some of your baby’s stress.
While your baby is experiencing newborn separation anxiety, you need to be mindful of your actions and habits to ease them into separation through gradual distance and by adopting practices that help build trust.
Want to know what separation anxiety in babies is and how to handle it? Read on to find out!
- Separation anxiety is a fear of separation that every baby suffers from due to the attachment they form with their primary caregiver.
- Approximately 4%-10% of babies experience separation anxiety after three years, known as Childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder.
- In extreme cases of separation anxiety, seeking professional help is advisable.
- You can adopt practices and routines to help your baby deal with separation anxiety.
What Is Separation Anxiety In Babies?
Separation anxiety is a fear of separating from the caregiver that develops in babies at around nine months of age. It is a common developmental stage that most babies experience.
Separation anxiety is characterized by a strong emotional reaction, either through crying or clinginess, when their caregiver leaves their side.
From six months of age up to two years, children form a unique emotional relationship with their caregivers, known as attachment. A secure attachment relationship develops as the caregiver consistently responds to their baby’s emotional, physical, and psychological needs. As the bond grows stronger, it may become harder for your baby to separate from you.
Witnessing your baby experience separation anxiety can be difficult—you may feel guilty. However, rest assured that separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development for babies and typically fades as babies become more comfortable with separation.
How Long Does Separation Anxiety Last In Babies?
Usually, babies start to lose their separation anxiety by the age of three. Toddlers start developing an understanding that if their caregiver leaves, they will return. All the rituals you create as a caregiver with your baby will instill this belief—they will help validate your child’s anxieties and manage their fears around separation.
However, in some cases, children continue to display signs of separation anxiety beyond three. This phenomenon is known as Childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder or CSAD.
CSAD is an anxiety disorder that occurs in 4%-10% of babies. Separation anxiety and CSAD may manifest in different ways. For example, your child may ask not to go to school, cry when you leave the room or refuse to sleep alone. Below, we explore more signs of separation anxiety in children.
Signs Of Separation Anxiety In Your Children
While the signs of separation anxiety differ between children, there are some common symptoms of separation anxiety babies typically demonstrate.
- Fear of strangers: Babies with separation anxiety typically start wailing, screaming or crying in the presence of strangers.
- Clingy behaviors: Babies with separation anxiety often cling to their trusted caregivers in unfamiliar places.
- Crying: Babies with separation anxiety typically cry when their caregiver leaves the room or puts them down.
- Timidity around others: Babies with separation anxiety may act shy around others, preferring to stay by your side rather than interact with others.
- Physical symptoms: Some babies will show physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, stomach aches, and headaches.
It’s important to note that the signs of separation anxiety in babies at night may differ from signs during the day.
Now that we know the signs let’s consider the potential causes of babies’ separation anxiety.
What Are The Causes?
In the initial stages of attachment, babies believe themselves and their primary caregiver are a single being. As they develop and experience short separations, they start to recognize that they are separate. At first, this can feel confusing and frightening, as it can feel like they are losing the person they rely on for survival.
But as babies develop, they begin to understand that people and objects exist even when they’re out of sight, known as object permanence. When babies learn object permanence, their anxiety around separation begins to lessen.
However, certain situations and events can trigger a baby’s separation anxiety. It is important to be aware of these as a caregiver so that you can respond appropriately. Factors triggering separation anxiety include:
- The loss of a parent (or parents).
- Change of surrounding like a new daycare or new home.
- A new nanny or babysitter.
- Birth of a sibling.
- Prolonged absences of a parent (or parents) for like a military deployment or work trip.
- Picking up on the caregiver’s stress of anxiety.
- Being sick, hungry, or exhausted.
- Strict parenting styles that do not give the baby freedom to think and decide on their own.
So, how, as a caregiver, can you deal with separation anxiety in babies?
How To Deal With Separation Anxiety In Babies
Separation anxiety can be a taxing and depressing experience for mothers, specifically those whose babies never want to be put down. These mothers often feel isolated, unable to go out, have fun, or even shower because their child’s separation anxiety persists.
During this time, it is essential to learn how to navigate potentially triggering situations and manage your baby’s separation anxiety when it arises. Why?
Because not only is separation anxiety upsetting for yourself and your baby, but it can have lasting effects. Babies who experience prolonged separation anxiety are at risk of developing anxiety or depression.
Here are a few parenting tips to help with handling separation anxiety.
Prepare Your Baby For Upcoming Separations
Preparing your baby for an upcoming separation can help ease separation anxiety and make the experience less stressful for you and your baby. Here are some ways to prepare your baby for upcoming separations:
- Start early: Begin preparing your baby for separation as early as possible, even before they start experiencing separation anxiety. You can start with brief separations and progress to longer separations. This way, they will gradually get used to being away from you, and it won’t be such a sudden shock when it happens.
- Introduce your baby to new people: If you rely on another person to care for your child during the separation, introduce your baby to the new caregiver beforehand so they can become familiar with each other. This can help foster a sense of comfort and safety in your child. You can also frequently introduce your baby to family members and other familiar people, as getting to know other people that aren’t their primary caregivers can begin to ease a child’s anxiety around other caregivers.
- Create a consistent routine: Establish a routine around separations so your baby knows what to expect. For example, if you are leaving your child at daycare, establish a consistent drop-off routine with the same caregiver each day. If younger babies start crying when you put them down at night, create a bedtime routine—one with a consistent goodbye ritual that will help them stay calm.
- Practice short separations: Practice separation from your child so they can get used to being away from you. This separation session could be leaving them with a trusted family member or friend for a short period while you do housework or run errands.
Taking these steps can help your child feel more at ease with separation.
Provide A Transitional Object
Provide a comfort object, also known as a transitional object, like a stuffed animal, for your baby to hold onto when you separate. You could choose something that has your scent on it so it feels more familiar to them. A comfort object can reassure your child when you are not there.
Develop A Routine
Routines help children feel safer, especially when faced with an unfamiliar person or environment. Creating a predictable routine around separations can help your child recognize when a separation is coming, making it less likely to surprise them.
Ensure your routine includes affection, such as a goodnight kiss, cuddle just before nap time, or a kiss goodbye. This routine will reassure your child that you’ll be back soon.
When To Know You Need Professional Help?
If your child is experiencing separation anxiety – rest assured it usually passes. However, if your child’s separation anxiety isn’t going away and you suspect they are experiencing Childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder, it is advisable to get professional help.
The first two years of life are formative in infant development. During these years, they will develop the cognitive abilities, understanding, and knowledge that will shape them as a person.
Therefore, if you recognize that your child is experiencing severe disruptions in their everyday life due to separation anxiety that just won’t go away, seek support. You will find that a professional helps lessen the impact on your baby and the burden on yourself.
Various forms of support are available. You can try:
- A doctor or pediatrician.
- A preschool teacher or counselor.
- A local mental health service provider.
- In-person or online therapy.
Although separation anxiety can be distressing for both the caregiver and child, it is a normal part of a healthy child’s development. It demonstrates the strong emotional connection between the baby and the caregiver.
Most babies outgrow separation anxiety after three years as they develop object permanence. However, for some, separation anxiety persists.
To support a child experiencing separation anxiety, prepare them for upcoming separations by starting early, introducing them to new people, creating a consistent routine, and practicing separation through games like peek-a-boo.
You can also provide a transitional object like a stuffed animal to reassure them while you’re away and develop a consistent routine—including a goodbye ritual—so they can anticipate separation is coming and thus stay calm.
Parents or caregivers must be consistent, mindful of their child’s fears and feelings, and remain calm. When separation anxiety extends past the toddler years, consulting a doctor or mental health professional or seeking therapy is advisable.
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