How to deal with your baby’s separation anxiety

Separation anxiety can be stressful for both you and your baby. Here are some do’s and don’ts to make the whole process easier…

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  • As his mum, you're everything to your baby and he’d love to have all your attention, all the time. But there are jobs to do, and in a few months you might be heading back to work. So what do you do if your tot can’t bear to be apart from you?

    Separation anxiety affects all children during the first two years,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution. “It starts at 4-6 months old when babies realise there’s a difference between you and other people.” Crying and clinging are the two main signs. “It can be frustrating,” says Elizabeth. “But it’s part of his development and there are plenty of ways to help him through it.”

  • DO… start small

    “If your baby’s happily engaged with a toy, leave the room but keep singing or talking so he knows you’re close by,” says Elizabeth. “And if he crawls after a toy, don’t follow. This way, he’ll learn that he’s safe even though you’re not beside him.” Build on these short separations, eventually leaving your baby with someone else while you go out to post a letter or meet a friend for half an hour. Your baby will begin to understand that however long you’re away, you’ll always come back.

  • DO… have a few practice runs

    If you’re planning on going back to work, help your baby get used to being away from you. “Start by inviting your childminder round to get to know your baby while you’re at home,” says Elizabeth. “Let them play together and on the second visit go into a different room. Your baby will feel safe because he knows you’re still around.” By gradually increasing the time and distance you’re apart, he’ll happily spend a whole day with his childminder once you start work.”

    If your first try-out goes well, repeat the experience within a week, says Elizabeth. Wait too long and your baby will have forgotten how much fun it was and you’ll have to start again.

  • DO…be cheerful

    “Smile and use a cheery voice as you go out,” advises Elizabeth. This way, even if you’re feeling nervous about leaving your baby, he won’t pick up on it. Remember, you’re leaving him with someone you trust and if you’re relaxed and confident about it, he will be too.

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  • DO… have a game of peek-a-boo

    Peek-a-boo is a favourite with babies and teaches them a valuable lesson. “It shows your baby that even if he can’t see you, you still exist and you will come back,” says Elizabeth. “As well as hiding your face behind your hands, try leaving the room and ask, ‘Where’s Mummy?’ before popping back and saying, ‘Peek-a-boo!’”

    You could try playing games with objects too. Hide a toy under a blanket, letting your baby feel it so he understands it’s still there and then whisk the blanket away.

    "If I leave the room while Willow’s playing, she gets very upset and I have to keep popping back to reassure her. So I play a game with her, sticking my head round the door every now and then so she knows I’m still around and that does help,” said Anja Abdulla, 20, from Ireland, mum to Willow, 10 months.

  • DO… let him enjoy his own company

    If your baby’s content daydreaming in his cot when he first wakes up, leave him to it. “Letting him enjoy his own company is a great way to boost his confidence and independence,” says Elizabeth. “If he’s happy gazing around or playing with his toes, he’ll start to learn that he can be his own best company.”

    A mobile above the cot or some soft toys are great ways to keep him entertained. But the minute he starts crying, go in and comfort him. “By crying, your baby’s saying, ‘I’m scared, I’m uncomfortable,’ and by going straight to him he’ll be confident that you’ll always be there when he needs you,” says Elizabeth.

  • DO… let your baby set the pace

    “Some babies are very curious and will happily let new people hold them. But the moment your baby starts to fuss, scoop him up. This way he’ll always know you’re there to rescue him,” says Elizabeth. “Try encouraging him to approach guests by giving them an exciting toy to hold that'll attract his interest.”

  • DON’T… rush or prolong the parting

    We all know what a panic getting ready to go out can be but by allowing yourself time, both you and your baby will feel relaxed. “If everything happens too quickly, your baby won’t have time to absorb it,” says Elizabeth. “Get ready calmly so the mood is free of tension. On the other hand, don’t drag it out because the longer your baby senses you’re leaving, the longer there is for anxiety to creep in.” And when you leave, make sure you have everything you need with you so you don’t have to come back and start the process all over again!

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  • DON’T… sneak away

    “It’s tempting to tiptoe away when your baby’s asleep or distracted, but this will only make him worry that you’ll disappear without warning,” says Elizabeth. “Instead, always wave goodbye so that he knows you’re going.”

    It’s also important to avoid passing your little one straight from your arms to the babysitter’s. “The physical action of handing your baby over to someone else increases anxiety,” explains Elizabeth. “Put your baby in a highchair or on the floor with some toys so you can say goodbye to him without a physical separation.”

  • DON’T… overwhelm him with new people

    When he’s a few months old, your baby will be more aware of his surroundings and seeing lots of new faces can be scary for him. “Your baby’s likely to feel tense in large groups so don’t pass him around,” says Elizabeth. “If you let people talk to him while he’s in the safety of your embrace, he’ll be more accepting of strangers.”

    Make new faces more familiar to your baby by pre-introducing people to him. Talk about them before he meets them, show him photos and chat about what you’ll do together when they visit.

    "From a few weeks old William would cry when anyone else held him, especially his dad’s mum. So I held William as she talked to him and then I could pass him over. The first few times I left him at nursery, he cried and cried. It broke my heart, but I had to be tough and now he’s settled in,” said Louise Crown, 34, from Hertfordshire, mum to William, 1.


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