Separation anxiety is an experience typical to almost all young ones between 7 and 18 months. For some, the signs will be acute, lasting what seems to be longer than their peers. But know that the process is entirely normal, and, believe it or not, a positive development.
The onset of separation anxiety indicates that your baby has formed a solid, healthy bond with you, and that being close to you is comforting for her, and fills her with good feelings. What’s more, it shows intellectual progress; she is now aware that she can influence her environment, and take action to reinstate a sense of security.
In short, separation anxiety is by no means a negative thing.
If your baby is exhibiting one or a cluster of the following symptoms, she’s likely suffering from a bout of separation-induced anxiety:
- Crying when Mum or Dad is out of sight
- Strong preference for one parent
- Fear of strangers
- Night wakings
- Easily comforted when cuddled by a parent
What can you do to help ease your little one through this transitionary phase?
The first thing is to not try force the behaviour to stop; remember that this is a good, healthy indicator of your relationship with your baby, and what seems problematic is only temporary, remedied by you continuing to stay close and shower your baby with love. As gentle parenting expert and author Elizabeth Pantley points out: “The more you meet baby’s attachment needs during babyhood, the more confident and secure they will grow up to be.”
Pantley also suggests minimising separations as much as possible, and even if only going to the next room, continue to talk to your baby reassuringly, since for them, they have no clue whether you’re leaving to switch on the dishwasher, or fly to the next planet! A great way to instil faith in your absence is to play peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek games with your tot.
When you do have to leave, don’t sneak off—you’ll break your baby’s trust; give her warning, explain the situation to her in reassuring tones, and keep things positive with a smile, and good cuddle. It’s also helpful to try introduce a lovie or special you as a ‘transitionary object’ for your baby to act as a stand-in sense of security when you’re away.
Finally, if your baby is the one to initiate brief sojourns off into other rooms, don’t follow on her heels; peek and listen closely, of course, but give her the freedom to explore and the awareness that it’s ok to do so.