Leaving your baby – how to cope with separation anxiety

Whether you have to be apart from your baby for a short or long period of time, our reassuring tips will help you cope with separation anxiety and minimise the tears

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Separation anxiety is a completely natural stage of babyhood but it can be stressful for both you and your baby. As you’re his mum and you spend the most time with him, he’d love your attention all the time. However, with jobs to be done or the possibility that you could be heading back to work from your maternity leave, the time for separation is inevitable. So what do you to if your baby can’t bear to be apart from you?

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

Take small steps towards separation

“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. “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.” By building on these short separations, eventually leaving your baby with someone else while you pop out won’t seem like such an unsettling experience and he’ll understand that you will always come back.

Have a practice run

If you’re planning on going back to work post-baby, you’ll need to start to 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 child minder once you starts work.”

If your practice run works out well the first time, make sure you repeat the experience within a week, suggests Elizabeth. If you leave it too long, your baby will forget and you’ll have to start again.

Don’t rush or prolong the parting

It’s all too easy to end up getting ready in a rush, but allow plenty of prep time, so both you and your baby feel relaxed.

“If everything happens too quickly, your baby won’t have time to absorb it,” advises 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.”

When you do come to leave, double-check that you have everything you need so that you avoid having to go back – and start the process over again!

Leave with a smile

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

Don’t sneak off

“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 to so that he knows you’re going.”

Also, try not to pass your baby straight from your arms to the childminder’s. “The physical action of handing your baby over to someone else increase anxiety,” explains Elizabeth. She suggests popping your baby in the highchair or on the floor with some toys so you can then wave goodbye without the separation being physical.

Play peek-a-boo!

Peek-a-boo isn’t just a game to play with your baby – it also teaches him valuable lessons, too. “It shows your baby that even though 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!’”

This also works with hiding objects – pop a toy under a blanket, let your baby feel it so he understands it’s still there, then pull away the blanket to reveal it again.

Help your baby enjoy his own company

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

Putting a mobile above his cot is a great way to keep him entertained. But if he cries, go straight in as this is his way of telling you ‘I’m scared’ or ‘I’m uncomfortable’. “By going to him immediately he’ll be confident that you’ll always be there when he needs you,” says Elizabeth.

Don’t overwhelm him with new people

By the time your baby’s a few months old, he’ll be more aware of his surroundings, and seeing lots of new faces can be scary. “If you let people talk to him whilst 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 you meet them, show him photos and chat about what you’ll do when he meets them.

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,” Elizabeth advises. “This way he knows that you’re there to rescue him.”

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Elizabeth says, “Try encouraging him to approach guests by giving them an exciting toy to hold that’ll attract his interest.”

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