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Does your child have separation anxiety? How to know

This stage, like so many others in childhood, will pass.

Does your child have separation anxiety? How to know

Nothing a parent does can "make" their baby develop separation anxiety. It's a perfectly normal and important developmental adaptation. Nearly all children experience separation anxiety between the ages of 7 and 18 months. Some have more intense reactions than others, and for some, the stage lasts longer than others, but almost all babies have it to some degree.

The development of separation anxiety demonstrates that your baby has formed a healthy, loving attachment to you. It is a beautiful sign that your baby associates pleasure, comfort, and security with your presence.

It also indicates that your baby is developing intellectually (in other words, they're smart!) They have learned they can have an effect on their world when they make their needs known, and they don't have to passively accept a situation that makes them uncomfortable. They don't know enough about the world yet to understand that when you leave you'll always come back.

They also realize they are safest, happiest, and best cared for by you, so their reluctance to part makes perfect sense especially when viewed from a survival standpoint. Put another way: You are baby's source of nourishment, both physical and emotional; therefore, baby's attachment to you is a means of survival, and when they reach a certain level of intellectual maturity, they realize this.

This stage, like so many others in childhood, will pass. In time, your baby will learn that they can separate from you, that you will return, and that everything will be okay between those two points in time. Much of this learning is based on trust, which, just as for every human being young or old, takes time to build.

How do I know if my baby has separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is pretty easy to spot, and you're probably reading this section because you've identified it in your baby. The following are behaviors typically demonstrated by a baby with normal separation anxiety:

  • Clinginess
  • Crying when a parent is out of sight
  • Strong preference for only one parent
  • Fear of strangers
  • Waking at night crying for a parent
  • Easily comforted in a parent's embrace

How you can help your baby with separation anxiety

1. Allow your baby to be a baby

It's perfectly okay — even wonderful — for your baby to be so attached to you and for them to desire your constant companionship. Congratulations, Mommy or Daddy: It's evidence that the bond you've worked so hard to create is holding. So politely ignore those who tell you otherwise.

2. Don't worry about spoiling baby with your love, since quite the opposite will happen

The more you meet baby's attachment needs during babyhood, the more confident and secure they will grow up to be.

3. Minimize separations when possible

While you may need to head back to work or have to run an errand alone, try to bring your little when possible. It's perfectly acceptable for now to avoid those situations that would have you separate from your baby. All too soon, your baby will move past this phase and on to the next developmental milestone.

4. Give your baby lessons in object permanence

As your baby learns that things continue to exist even when they can't see them, they'll feel better about letting you out of their sight. Games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek will help her understand this phenomenon.

5. Practice with quick, safe separations

Throughout the day, create situations of brief separation. When you go into another room, whistle, sing or talk to your baby so they know you're still there, even though they can't see you.

6. Don't sneak away when you have to leave

It may seem easier than dealing with a tearful goodbye, but it will just cause the baby constant worry that you're going to disappear without warning at any given moment. The result? Even more clinginess, and diminished trust in your relationship.

7. Tell your baby what to expect

If you are going to the store and leaving baby home with Grandma, explain where you are going and tell them when you'll be back. Eventually, they'll come to understand your explanations.

8. Don't rush the parting, but don't prolong it, either

Give your baby ample time to process your leave-taking, but don't drag it out and make it more painful for both of you.

9. Express a positive attitude when leaving

If you're off to work, or an evening out, leave with a smile. Your baby will absorb your emotions, so if you're nervous about leaving, they'll be nervous too. Your confidence will help alleviate baby's fears.

10. Leave your baby with familiar people

If you must leave your baby with a new caregiver, try to arrange a few visits when you'll all be together before you leave the two of them alone for the first time.

11. Invite distractions

If you're leaving your baby with a caregiver or relative, encourage that person to get your baby involved with playtime as you leave. Say a quick goodbye and let your baby be distracted by an interesting activity.

12. Allow your baby the separation that they initiate

For example, if they crawl off to another room, don't rush after baby. Listen and peek, of course, to make sure they're safe, but let them know it's fine to go off exploring on their own.

13. Encourage their relationship with a special toy if they have one

These are called transitional objects or loveys. They can be a comfort to baby when they're separated from you. Many babies adopt blankets or soft toys as loveys, holding them to ease any pain of separation. The lovey becomes a friend and represents security in the face of change.

14. Don't take it personally

Many babies go through a stage of attaching themselves to one parent or the other. The other parent, as well as grandparents, siblings and friends can find this difficult to accept, but try to reassure them that it's just a temporary and normal phase of development and with a little time and gentle patience it will pass.

This article is an excerpt from Gentle Baby Care by Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

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1. Allow your baby to be a baby

It's perfectly okay—even wonderful—for your baby to be so attached to you and for them to desire your constant companionship. Congratulations, Mommy or Daddy: It's evidence that the bond you've worked so hard to create is holding. So politely ignore those who tell you otherwise.

14 sweet 'just thinking of you' gifts for every mama

A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs.

Who says you have to wait for birthdays or holidays to give your bestie a great gift? A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs in these more-than-trying times. We've rounded up some of our favorite go-to gifts that are certain to be a bright spot in her week. But be warned, you may want to snag a few for yourself. (You deserve it, mama.)

Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

volition face + body care duo

This correcting oil and stretch mark minimizer is perfect for the pregnant mama looking to keep her pregnancy glow. The correcting oil brightens the skin while reducing dark spots, and the stretch mark minimizer works to smooth her ever-growing belly.

$70

Allover roller

esker allover roller

This jade roller goes beyond your typical face roller and can be used anywhere on the body. It works to increase stimulation and reduce puffiness and is perfect for applying any oils to the face or body. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment.

$65

Kombucha making kit

farmsteady kombucha making kit

What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.

$45

Laetitia lipstick

cupid & psyche laetitia

This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!

$23

Jigsaw puzzle

inner piecec jigsaw puzzle

Mamas need to destress now more than ever during quarantine. This adorable jigsaw puzzle is perfect for the mama who needs a brain break! The 500-piece puzzle designed by artist Ray Oranges features an abstract gradient design that fits a standard frame when completed. Bonus: It's printed on recycled paper and the company donates $1 from every puzzle sold to youth mindfulness programs.

$30

Matilda's Bloombox

matilda's bloombox

If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.

$39

'I Am Enough' bracelet

I Am Enough bracelet

Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."

$35

Glow assorted teas

vahdam low assorted teas

This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.

$24

Find your voice journal

find your voice journal

Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.

$22

Premium frother

shore magic premium frother

This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!

$25

Bath soak infusion kit

maude bath soak infusion kit

Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.

$32

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.

$105

Superfood honey

Beekeeper's Naturals B.Powered honey

With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.

$17

Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.

$68

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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