Separation Anxiety: What, Why & How

Separation Anxiety1

What is Separation Anxiety?

Has your little one suddenly become more clingy? Do they cry every time you leave the room? Are they struggling to go down for day time naps, wanting more cuddles during the night and generally upset unless you are right there with them? If the answer is yes then it’s likely your little angel is experiencing separation anxiety.

This can be quite a shock for parents, especially if your little one was previously self-settling well and sleeping well at night. As challenging as this phase can be, is actually a good sign; it indicates that your baby is forming strong, healthy attachments to you and it’s a normal stage of development.

Why does it happen?

Separation anxiety can occur at different times for  babies however it’s most common around 8-10 months (many will also experience this at around 18-20 months). It can be caused by both cognitive and physical developments. As your little once develops a new intellectual skill called object permanence, he begins to realise you exist when you aren’t in the room. He misses you and fears that you may not return. He has also stated to form strong attachments to you. He will start to notice when you are getting ready to leave, this will cause him anxiety and he might protest as he doesn’t want you to go. He may also wake up in the night upset that you aren’t there.

It’s often also around this time that babies go through big physical changes too. Some start to crawl, roll or bum shuffle. As they become more independent, able to move away from their parents and interact more with the world around them, they can start to feel anxious and may want to return quickly to their parents for support.

How can I help?

Like most phases, separation anxiety will pass, however there are things you can do in the meantime to help support your little one. Here are our top tips.

Give Reassurance
Give your little one lots of positive attention. Spend extra time with them. Don’t force them to be independent, if they want to sit on your lap while all their friends are happy playing on the floor just let them. Give them what they need; this will help ease their anxiety.

Don’t Sneak Away
It’s tempting to avoid the tears by disappearing without your little one realising. This will only increase their anxiety – they will eventually look for you and realise you aren’t there. Always say goodbye and give a kiss and a cuddle, “Mummy is just popping to the shops, I will be back soon”. If your child wants you to stay with them at bedtime then stay. This phase won’t last forever. Once you notice their anxiety has calmed you can gradually move yourself out of their room leaving them to settle on their own. 

Teach them about returning
Games such as peek-a-boo can be helpful in teaching your little one to understand that you will always return after you have gone. Practice some rapid returns at home too, leaving for very short periods, half a minute to begin with and then returning and giving your little one a big cuddle and a kiss.

Comforters
A comforter acts as a little piece of you/home. They are great for little ones who are going to stay with grandparents or those starting childcare. Wearing these down your top for a few days can help them smell like you and provide even greater comfort when needed.

If you would like any further advice or support please email vikki@allaboutbabies.org.uk