Separation anxiety is a very typical part of child development that begins around the time your little one learns the concept of object permanence; things and people (including Mom and Dad) still exist even when they can’t see them anymore. Separation anxiety can develop as early as 5 months, but usually becomes more pronounced around the time babies hit 9 months. Some babies skip this phase altogether and only start to experience separation anxiety around the time they’re 15-18 months.
Although it is a totally normal part of child development, it can be difficult on both you and your baby. Separation anxiety can appear at various times throughout the day, especially at bedtime and naptime. Here are some tips to help things go smoother when your little one goes through this stage.
Introduce a transition object and goodbye ritual: Some examples are a special handshake/hug, love mark, song/rhyme/poem and introduction of a special item that will provide comfort to your child when you’re not around (stuffed animal, bracelet). Just a reminder that a lovey is only considered safe for sleep for children ages 1 year +.
Ensure you don’t sneak away: Always say goodbye, this builds trust. If you leave without saying goodbye it may seem as though you suddenly disappeared and cause fear.
Reassure your child of your return: Tell them you will return and when you do come back remind them that you have returned and always do.
Play: Play hide and seek and peek a boo to show your child that when you’re out of their sight you will always reappear. Allow your child to “hide” too. For older kids pretend play different separation and coming together scenarios with their toys.
Provide coping strategies: Hugging their transition item, taking deep breaths, reading books, deciding on something fun to do together when you are reunited.
Practice by only leaving for short periods of time at first: Leave the room for short periods of time and gradually increase the amount of time. Always announce that you are leaving, where you are going and that you will be back.
Validate feelings and provide reassurance: Remind your little one that how they feel is okay, provide them with comfort and let them know that you will return.
Remain calm and confident: This is important since children can sense and feed off of our anxieties/emotions.