Serious case of Separation Anxiety

Cheryl - posted on 01/08/2009 ( 6 moms have responded )




My 8 month old daughter won't let me out of her sight. She won't go to anyone else except for my husband or I - any suggestions to help break this severe separation anxiety?


Rebekah - posted on 01/13/2009




Do all babies experience separation anxiety?

Yes, to a degree. At certain stages, most babies or toddlers will show true anxiety and be upset at the prospect — or reality — of being separated from a parent. If you think about separation anxiety in evolutionary terms, it makes sense: A defenseless baby would naturally get upset at being separated from the person who protects and cares for him.

In many ways, attitudes about babies and separations are cultural. Western countries tend to stress autonomy from a very early age. But in many other cultures, infants are rarely separated from their mother in the first year of life.

Regardless of the origins of this normal developmental stage, it's frustrating for babies and parents. The good news is that separation anxiety will pass and there are ways to make it more manageable. And in the meantime, enjoy the sweetness of knowing that to your child, you're number one.

When does it most commonly occur?

Babies can show signs of separation anxiety as early as 6 or 7 months, but the crisis age for most babies is between 12 to 18 months. Most commonly, separation anxiety strikes when you or your spouse leaves your child to go to work or run an errand. Babies can also experience separation anxiety at night, safely tucked in their cribs with Mom and Dad in the next room.

How can I help my baby through it?

Several options are available to parents:

Option I

Minimize separations as much as possible and take your baby along if he seems to feel anxious. With this option, you're basically waiting for your baby to outgrow this stage.

Option II

If you have to leave your baby — for example, to return to work — try leaving him with people who are familiar, like his father, grandmother, or aunt. Your baby may still protest, but he might adjust more easily to your absence when surrounded by well-known faces.

Option III

If you need to leave your child with someone he doesn't know, give him a chance to get to know his caregiver while you're still around. (See below.)

How should I prepare my baby for separations?

As with any transition, give your baby an opportunity to gradually get used to the idea. Whether you're leaving him with a family member or a paid childcare provider, try the following suggestions:

• Let your baby get comfortable. Ask a new sitter to visit and play with your baby several times before leaving them alone for the first time. For your first real outing, ask the sitter to arrive about 30 minutes before you depart so that she and the baby can be well engaged before you step out the door. Employ the same approach at a daycare center or at your nursery, church, or health club.

• Always say goodbye. Kiss and hug your baby when you leave and tell him where you're going and when you'll be back, but don't prolong your goodbyes.

• Always say goodbye: Part 2. Resist the urge to sneak out the back door. Your baby will only become more upset if he thinks you've disappeared into thin air.

• Keep it light. Your baby is quite tuned in to how you feel, so show your warmth and enthusiasm for the caregiver you've chosen. And don't cry or act upset if your baby starts crying — at least not while he can see you. You'll both get through this. The caregiver will probably tell you later that your baby's tears stopped before you were even out of the driveway.

• Once you leave, leave. Repeated trips back into the house or daycare center to calm your baby will make it harder on you, your child, and the caregiver.

• Try a trial at first. Limit the first night (or afternoon) out to no more than an hour. As you and baby become more familiar with the sitter or the surroundings of a childcare setting, you can extend your outings.

How should we handle nighttime separation anxiety?

Your baby's fear of being separated from you at night is very real for him, so you'll want to do your best to keep the hours preceding bedtime as nurturing and peaceful (and fun) as possible. In addition:

• Spend some extra cuddle time with your baby before bed by reading, snuggling, and softly singing together.

• If your baby cries for you after you've put him to bed, it's fine to go to him — both to reassure him and to reassure yourself that he's okay. But make your visits "brief and boring," and he'll learn to fall back to sleep without a lot of help from you. Eventually, he'll be able to fall asleep on his own.

What if nothing seems to work?

Babies have different personalities, so some will experience more severe bouts of separation anxiety than others. If your child can't be comforted using simple measures, it's time to reevaluate.

• Take a second look at your sitter or daycare center. The person or center may be a mismatch for your baby if he continues to become anxious and weepy when you leave.

• Leave your baby with a relative or someone he knows well for 15-minute periods, working your way up to one hour. Your baby can then learn that when you leave you'll return, without having the added stress of being with someone unfamiliar.

• Reevaluate your goodbye pattern. Do you sneak out when your baby isn't looking? Do you make it seem like you're going off to war? Do you slowly back down the walk waving and crying until your baby's out of sight? A simple "see you later, alligator" followed by a quick hug and a kiss can do wonders for an anxious child. Your actions show your baby that leaving isn't big deal, and that you'll be home again soon.


I also use my sling/Bjorn to get things done if he is really unable to part with me. At daycare, we follow our goodbye routine and I go quickly. He settles down after a while. Since he has known his daycare provider for almost 5 months, he is comfortable with her, just sad I am leaving.


View replies by

Midge - posted on 05/29/2013




My son had separation anxiety and although he somewhat grew out of it, he continues to have anxiety issues. However, the book The Missing Mommy Cure has helped.

Rachel - posted on 01/15/2009




my baby has just started doing this in the last few weeks if he cannot see me at all times he cries, he dosen't want to be held just needs to see me when his dad and bother are home he is ok with them but will come to find me just to check then he'll go back and play. This can be a pain at times but i just let him cry its never for long and i'm trying to teach him that i will always come back and never go to far it is hard but i feel i need to because i worry he will only get worse.

Dawn - posted on 01/15/2009




i had the same problem with my 3 year old daughter. although she didn't start that until about 1 year of age. it was so hard for me to get a babysitter other than the grandparents...and when we went to church she would scream when we tried to leave her in the nursury. this may sound very harsh and cruel...but this is the only way to do it. it hurts you more than her trust me..,you just have to hand her off and leave the room QUICKLY. she will cry for a few minutes but once your gone she hopefully will settle down and stop crying. my daughter did anyway. have you ever heard the term out of site out of mind? yeah that applies to mommies too!! lol. i learned this the hard way. it broke my heart everytime i left the room hearing her scream. but it does get better and the more you do it and she sees you come back they will start to understand that it's okay...mommy does come back. now i drop her off and it's like ok mom bye, get out i'm fine. and that's sad for me too!! haha!! hang in there it gets better i promise:)

Cheryl - posted on 01/08/2009




I feel your pain - it makes it so difficult to do anything alone. I went to the hairdresser a month ago and my poor husband struggled so much as my daughter was in tears from the minute I left to the minute I arrived! Moms, any advice for us PLEASE???

Shannon - posted on 01/08/2009




any info to answer this question would be greatly appreciated I also have an 8 month daughter that also refuses to let me out of her sight. There are times when she won't even go to my husband

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