Does your child cry and become upset whenever you have to leave him in the morning? No need to feel guilty, working mom.
Going through separation anxiety is part of a child’s normal development. According to BabyCenter, it happens when a baby begins to understand the concept of “object permanence” -- just because you can't see it does not mean it ceases to exist. Younger babies are still beginning to understand this, which is why games like “peekaboo” are so fascinating to them.
Now that he’s a little older, your baby is aware you’re trying to leave, and he understandably doesn’t want you to go. Whether it’s for only an hour to run errands or a whole day to go to work, it doesn’t matter to him. He will cling to you, cry and throw a tantrum. It can manifest as early as 6 months for some babies, and, it’s “typically most prevalent between 8 and 18 months or so,” Dr. Erin Boyd-Soisson, associate professor of human development at Messiah College in the U.S., told Parents. Every child is different; the phase can last for a few months or even years for some.
A baby or a toddler’s separation anxiety can be unsettling and frustrating for both child and parent, but it will pass. Take comfort in knowing that separation anxiety is also a sign that you have a meaningful attachment and bond with your little one. In the meantime, here are some tips to ease both your separation woes.
1. Keep goodbyes short and sweet. Two common separation anxiety mistakes parents often commit: sneaking out the door to avoid saying goodbye altogether and prolonging the goodbye to try to calm down the baby. Both don’t help your little one. Finding you’ve "disappeared" will only upset your child more and make goodbyes difficult. And a dramatic goodbye only prolongs the agony for the both of you.
A short and sweet farewell will do, like a kiss and a warm hug. Tell your child you’ll be back soon and then leave. Plus, don’t show your baby that you’re sad about leaving her. Your child is tuned in to what you feel, says BabyCenter. “If you act anxious, or keep returning for another hug, she will think there is something to worry about,” Dr. Vincent Barone, a child psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospitals & Clinics, told Parents.
2. Make it a routine. Children thrive on routine; they feel more at ease when they know what to expect in their day. A consistent farewell routine (a kiss and a hug every time) acts as a transition, says Parents. It also helps builds trust -- he can count on you to return as you say you will and you help him develop an ability to get through the separation, says BabyCenter. “Try to do the same drop-off with the same ritual at the same time each day you separate to avoid unexpected factors whenever you can,” says pediatrician and author Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson for the American Academy of Pediatrics' HealthyChildren.org.
3. Let her get to know yaya first. Whenever possible, leave your baby with someone she already knows, like dad or lola, says BabyCenter. “Your baby may still protest, but he might adjust to your absence more easily when surrounded by well-known faces.”
If you’re leaving her with yaya, make sure your baby is already acquainted and comfortable being around her yaya. Let them spend a few play sessions together first. If you’re leaving your baby with someone she hasn’t met yet, like a tita or a friend, ask your sitter to come 30 minutes early before you leave. This will give them time to get to know each other with you still around.
4. Set up an activity immediately afterward. A trick to try to calm your child after you leave is to have an activity setup already ready for him after you step out the door. Yaya can show him a favorite toy or engage him in a game to take his mind off you leaving.
5. Don’t come and go. If you have to be gone the whole day, resist dropping by your house to check up on your child during your downtime or lunch break. This only makes it harder for you, your child and her caregiver. You’ll have to go through the whole farewell process all over again, and the inconsistencies will ruin the routine you’re trying to establish.
When to worry? If you feel like your child’s separation anxiety is severe, have a chat with her pediatrician. According to Parents, excessive symptoms can include vomiting or unrelenting worry.