Has your baby suddenly become clingy, crying whenever you’re out of her sight? Sometimes it only takes a step towards a door to set off the tears and wailing from your little one. This is most likely separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety starts when your baby’s around 6 months old, although it can be a few months either side.
It probably seems that only last week your baby was happy to be left at childcare or held by other people. But at some point before her first birthday, everything’s changed and she now won’t let you out of her sight.
There are several reasons why your baby cries when you leave her:
- Attachment. The emotional connection between you and your baby is well established, and the strength of this bond makes her want to be with you all the time. She thinks, “I only want my mum, no one else.”
- Permanence. Your baby has no concept of permanence. When she watches a ball roll behind a sofa, she thinks it no longer exists. Your baby cries when she can’t see you because she thinks, “Mum’s gone and she won’t be back.”
- Time. Your baby’s concept of time has not developed. So even though you tell her you’ll see her soon, she thinks, “It’ll be ages before I see my mum again.”
- Awareness. She’s more sensitive to your presence because she has a more mature understanding of the world around her. As a result, your baby reacts the moment you disappear from her vision. She thinks, “I miss my mum already.”
Will my baby grow out of separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is typically a short-lived phase.
For example, if your baby’s left with a childminder every morning, the chances are she’ll settle there within a fortnight. And even though she may be fully adjusted to staying with her current babysitter for an evening, she may be tearful and anxious when staying the next time with an unfamiliar sitter.
How else does my baby show separation anxiety?
Your baby can show her worries about being separated from you in ways other than tears.
She may quietly crawl after you. It isn’t naughtiness when she appears at your ankles in the kitchen, even though you told her to stay in the other room. This is her way of telling you, “You’re not going anywhere without me.”
If she can’t crawl, she may try to follow you anyway.
Your baby could also be passive when experiencing separation anxiety. You might return from the kitchen to find her sitting inactively in the same position as you left her, as if she literally hasn’t moved.
- Stay calm. No matter how drained you are by your baby’s inability to let anyone else care for her, try to stay in control.
- Reassure your baby. When you tell her you’ll be back in a moment, say it with a smile so she’ll begin to develop trust.
- Separate quickly. Keep separations brief – drop her off at childcare with a quick hug.
- Soothe her. Calm your baby when you come back. Reassure her that she’s fine.
- Persevere. If you avoid temporary separations because of her clinginess, you’ll never have any time on your own. She needs your encouragement.