Separation Anxiety is Just a Phase . . . Or, Is It?
Separation anxiety is a normal phase that babies go through beginning as early as six-seven months and can last up to 24 months. Most parents see it beginning around 10 months when their babies realize that people exist even when they are not present, such as when mommy leaves to go to work or daddy leaves for the store, or sometimes even at night when your child is falling asleep or wakes up alone. In some cases, this anxiety will persist through preschool and even elementary school.
Tips to help ease some of the stress of separation:
- Start prepping your baby at home by letting him crawl to another room that is baby-proof and wait a few minutes to retrieve him.
- More home practice can include you telling your child that you are leaving the room and will be back in a few minutes. Be sure to let her know where you are going. Example: “I’m going to the kitchen and will be back in just a couple of minutes.”
- Try to time your at-home practices after your baby has just napped or eaten as babies are more susceptible to separation anxiety if they are tired or hungry.
- Begin leaving your baby with a familiar friend or family member for short intervals of 15-20 minutes at a time.
- If you are going back to work and need child care, try to get to know the caregiver better and get your child used to her/him before the first day when you will drop her off. It’s also good to have a primary caregiver instead of multiple ones.
- Don’t leave without telling your child goodbye. If you slip out, it is often more confusing and upsetting for the baby when he realizes you are gone. Simply say goodbye, that you love her and that you will be back later.
- When you leave, leave. Don’t go back in and out trying to make the situation better.
- Make goodbyes quick and without fanfare.
How can you tell the difference from separation anxiety and separation disorder?
- If your child’s fears seem to get more intense as he gets older and his anxiety prevents him from doing normal activities such as playing with friends or attending school, his anxiety may now be a disorder.
- One of the most common fears for a child with separation disorder is that harm will come to a loved one when the child is not there.
- Does your child worry about being kidnapped, in an accident, or lost and never able to return to you?
- Have you noticed your child making up reasons to stay home from school and doing almost anything to not attend?
- Many children with separation disorder become insomniacs because they are scared of being alone or having nightmares about being separated from you.
- Your child will often complain of being sick with a headache, stomach ache or a general “I don’t feel good” before you are to be separated or right when it is happening.
When to seek help:
If you have been patient and tried to help your child using recommendations (see the HelpGuide.org link below) from expert sources, you may want to schedule time with your pediatrician to talk about seeking help through a child therapist with expertise in anxiety disorders.