What exactly is separation anxiety, when does it typically begin and what does it typically feel like to your little one?
At Pramglam, we want parents and babies to keep what they love in sight. However, we know this isn’t always physically possible. We help parents and little ones keep their cherished one in sight on walks – but at some point mom or dad probably needs to go to work – or out to dinner for a much needed date night – and baby needs to be left with another caretaker. This can cause something known as separation anxiety to occur. But just what exactly is separation anxiety, when does it typically begin and what does it typically feel like to your little one? Also, how can parents help their little one cope and become more comfortable being away from mom or dad?
“Not knowing where mom or dad has gone (or if they are ever going to return) can cause a lot of stress and fear in baby. This can cause baby to cry, cling and carry on like there is no tomorrow.”
What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is exactly what it sounds like – anxiety caused from separation. It is actually a perfectly normal thing, but it can be extremely unsettling for baby and also stressful for a parent. Babies do not understand time but at some point they do begin to grasp “object permanence” - the idea that an object out of sight still exists. This can cause a baby to be extremely anxious and afraid when mom or dad isn’t in sight as they have no idea when – or if – mom and dad will return. Whether mom walks into the kitchen for a moment or baby is dropped off at childcare for the first time, it is likely the experience could cause some tears or clinginess.
When does it start and how long does it last?
The timing of Separation Anxiety can vary but it typically begins between 8 months and 1 year old and peaks between 1 year and 18 months. How long it lasts can also vary and depends on the child as well as how the child’s parent responds to the child’s needs – but it typically ends by the time a child is 3 years old. If it persists longer than this, or does not get better over time, parents are encouraged to speak to a doctor or maternal health nurse.
What does Separation Anxiety look and feel like?
Not knowing where mom or dad has gone (or if they are ever going to return) can cause a lot of stress and fear in baby. This can cause baby to cry, cling and carry on like there is no tomorrow.
Separation anxiety can also feel pretty awful to a parent. It can be heartbreaking to leave a child that is visibly upset – and it can also cause feelings of guilt or frustration. Alternatively, it can also feel good to know just how much your child is attached to you. At the end of the day, you can take solace in knowing that your little one’s hesitancy to be away from you is a good sign as it signals healthy attachments have developed between the two of you. Your child will eventually outgrow the anxiety and understand that you will always return to them after being away. In the meantime, there are a few things parents can do to help ease baby’s anxiety.
What can I do to help ease baby’s anxiety?
Parents often feel helpless when their child displays signs of separation anxiety. But fear not – there are a few things you can do short of cancelling all plans until your child has decided they are fully OK with you leaving their sight.
Make the Most of the Time Together: Babies with secure attachments can better handle separation. Cuddling, comforting and reassuring your little one when you’re together can help them feel more secure.
Time it Right: A rested baby with a full tummy is always easier to deal with than a little one who is tired and hungry – good advice for anything you hope to achieve with a toddler!
Practice Makes Perfect: Start slow, if possible, to give your little one time to warm up to being away from you and with new people. Ask for an orientation at child-care so you can spend time with your child in the new environment on their first few visits, or invite a babysitter over to spend time with baby while you’re present before leaving. In short, practice being away for short periods before being away from your little one for longer periods of time.
Establish a Quick Exit Ritual: Keep the goodbye short and sweet while remaining calm and confident in front of your little one. Take the time to reassure your little one you’ll be back and give them your full attention as you say goodbye- but don’t linger. Dragging out the goodbye will only make it harder for both of you. Also try to be as consistent with the drop-off time and place as possible. Children thrive with routine.
Keep Your Word: Make sure you clearly tell your little one when you will return - and then make sure you follow through! Try putting it in terms your little one understands (such as “I’ll be back just after your afternoon snack”). This helps establish trust and confidence that you will return in the future.
Keep Calm & Carry On: Working on the assumption you fully trust the person you’re leaving your child with, take solace in the fact that your little one will be OK. Chances are they will be smiling and playing within a few minutes of you leaving.
Now that we know what separation anxiety is and when it starts (exactly at the same time most parents are making the decision to turn baby around in the stroller) – it makes sense why some little ones may suddenly decide they want nothing to do with the pram. They might be eager to show their disdain by crying (loudly!) and contorting their body in a way that makes it nearly impossible to fasten them in (toddlers are amazing at this). One of the reasons behind this could be separation anxiety: your little one may be upset that they lose sight of you when placed in the stroller. If this is the case with your little one, we encourage you to “glam up your pram” on your next walk – we’ve found it can do wonders to help put baby at ease.