Separation Anxiety | Emma's Diary India

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Separation anxiety


The causes of separation anxiety and tips on how to cope

It can be very upsetting for a parent when their child screams and cries as they try to leave them with someone else, whether it is at a nursery, with a child minder or relative.

All babies, at some point in their development are likely to experience separation anxiety in some format. It is very common and completely normal and can happen in phases (sometimes very short ones) and will not last forever.

Babies have to learn the ability to trust so when a parent 'disappears' if they haven’t yet learned to trust, they take it as a fearful or threatening situation.

Child psychologists liken it to babies using their Stone Age instincts. Little ones don’t instinctively know they are safe at nursery school or with Aunty Pooja. To them, when mum walks out of the door, they could be eaten by tigers!

Of course we know their tears and tantrums are misplaced, but that’s not to say that it isn't a difficult thing for a parent to witness and cope with.

Nobody wants to think that their child is panicking and upset when they are being left with someone different or somewhere new.

At what age does separation anxiety affect children?

Separation anxiety often starts at around the age of eight months and usually improves around the one year mark when children are starting to toddle around more actively and have lots on their mind to keep them distracted and entertained.

However, the anxiety sometimes returns at around the age of two, when children become more aware of their own independence, the world around them and their feelings.

How does separation anxiety affect children?

Children may react in different ways when they have separation anxiety. Some will become withdrawn and uncooperative, refusing to eat or play.

Others may start crying and screaming when the parent leaves the room – even for a minute – only being consoled by the parent’s return and a cuddle.

The separation anxiety is usually focused on the person who is the main carer, but it can be split between both parents.

Up until the age of six months old it’s usual for a baby to happily go to anyone who wants to cuddle them.

But once a child becomes more aware of their surroundings and can recognise the faces of their loved ones they will make their own mind up who they feel most comfortable with and will be aware of new faces and surroundings.

The child may be perfectly happy being held by a new person, a stranger, or someone they only see occasionally as long as mum is nearby. But they may well scream in panic if mum pops off to put the kettle on.

How to cope with separation anxiety

A baby who has separation anxiety needs to be constantly and convincingly reassured that your absence does not mean you have gone forever. The only way to prove this is to leave her and come back again.

There is one school of thought that playing the age-old game of peek-a-boo developed from a need to prove to babies that mum can disappear…and come back again.

One thing is for sure; parents can’t give up their plans or skip going to work because of their child’s tears. Separation is something children have to learn to cope with. It’s all part of their emotional journey.

There are some practical things you can do to help if your child is showing signs of separation anxiety:

  • Your baby may be comforted by a soft toy or blanket which they associate with you
  • Try to time your leaving spells when your baby is awake and alert. If she is tired, hungry or grouchy then her tears could get out of hand
  • Practice leaving your child for short spells (15 minutes at a time to start with) with a friend or relative
  • Try to leave your baby with only a small number of regular people and keep her surroundings as familiar as possible
  • If you know in advance which child minder you will be using, invite her over a couple of times to meet your baby with you around or if your baby will be going to a nursery pay a few short visits there with her before she starts there
  • Have a 'bye bye' routine so saying or waving bye bye to you is a fun thing
  • Never sneak away when she is not looking
  • Always reassure her you will be returning
  • If she is old enough to understand explain you will return “after her nap” or “after her teatime”. Give her a time frame to recognise. BUT only if you are sure you can stick to it!
  • When you’ve said goodbye, GO. Don’t nip back or lurk around watching her unless you are absolutely certain you won’t be spotted.
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