As a sleep consultant, I often witness parents grappling with feelings of guilt and self-doubt, especially when faced with the challenges of a baby not sleeping well. One significant contributor to this parenting rollercoaster is separation anxiety, that phase when a child seems to lose their cool whenever Mom isn’t around. The internal monologue of a child during this time might sound like, “Mommy’s not in the room. Therefore, Mommy is somewhere else. I would prefer to be there with her. Make that happen, or mark my words, I shall raise the most unimaginable of ruckuses.”
Now, it’s natural for parents to wonder if they’re doing something wrong. Shouldn’t a well-adjusted child feel reasonably safe when temporarily separated from their parents? The truth is, separation anxiety is entirely normal and, in fact, a sign of a healthy parent-child attachment. So, let’s delve into what separation anxiety is, why it happens, and how to navigate through this phase with grace.
Understanding Separation Anxiety:
Separation anxiety typically surfaces around 6-8 months of age when babies start comprehending the concept of “object permanence.” This milestone signifies the understanding that objects and people continue to exist even when out of sight. For babies, this realization translates to the idea that if their favorite person (you, of course) is not there, you might be somewhere else and possibly not returning.
While it’s a fascinating cognitive leap, it can also be a bit heart-wrenching for babies. The panic sets in, and the thought of a parent leaving and not returning triggers anxiety. But remember, this is a normal, natural phase, showcasing your little one’s learning journey and a secure attachment to you.
Tips for Easing Separation Anxiety:
Now, you may be asking, “How do I prevent it?” The truth is, you wouldn’t necessarily want to. However, if you’re dealing with a child who’s making every errand or date night a tearful ordeal, here are some suggestions to take the edge off until this phase runs its course:
Lead by Example:
Your baby takes cues from you, so designate a room where they can explore and play without your direct supervision. This small adjustment can have a significant effect.
Don’t Avoid It:
Separation and reunion are crucial milestones. Let your child know it’s okay to get upset when you leave, assuring them that you’ll always come back. This concept is essential for them to grasp.
Begin with short outings once your little one understands they’ll spend time with someone other than a parent. Avoid planning extended outings initially.
Start With Someone Familiar:
Enlist the help of a grandparent or a trusted family friend for the initial attempts. Familiar faces go a long way in reassuring your child.
Stick Around for a While:
Spend some time around after the caregiver arrives. Your presence can reassure your child that the caregiver is trustworthy.
Face the Music:
Even if it triggers tears, say goodbye openly. It’s essential for your child to understand that you’ll leave sometimes but will always return as promised.
Establish a Routine:
A predictable goodbye routine, much like bedtime, helps your child recognize and accept the situation. Create a routine with a set number of kisses, hugs, and a clear indication of when you’ll be back.
Speak in Terms They’ll Understand:
Instead of specifying the duration, relate it to their schedule—mentioning after nap time, before bed, after dinner, etc.
Remember, these tips are for everyday separation anxiety. If you suspect a more serious condition like Separation Anxiety Disorder, consult your pediatrician. But for the typical fit-pitching episodes, consistency, support, assertiveness, and calmness will go a long way. Soon enough, your child will grasp the concept of you leaving and coming back.