Separation anxiety is the result of a few milestones occurring at or around the same time. You and your baby have been nurturing a special bond from the very beginning. That attachment is actually a wonderful achievement that solidifies between the ages of 6 months and 10 months.
During that time, your baby is learning that there are times when you are not together. Those times apart can be scary for him because he does not yet understand that you continue to exist out of his line of sight. This concept, known as object permanence, is usually learned around 7 months or 8 months of age.
The goal here is to build up a sense of trust between you and your child. He needs to be consistently reminded that you will be back for him.
As with all stressful situations in life, separation anxiety is worse when children are not at their best. If your little one is tired, hungry, or not feeling well, you can expect the "good-bye times" to be much longer and more difficult.
Here are a few suggestions to help you tackle the situation:
- Practice. Appear/disappear games like peek-a-boo and short practice runs can help in a playful way.
- If you are going to be leaving your child with a daycare provider or babysitter, try to have that person visit a few times with you and your baby together. After a comfort level is achieved, leave your child with that caregiver for short periods and then gradually increase the time apart.
- When saying goodbye, be warm yet quick. Tell your child where you are going and when you will be back.
- For tough situations, make sure the caregiver is ready with a distraction when you have finished saying goodbye.
- Do not sneak out. Doing so can make things worse.
- Do not display any negative emotions of your own about leaving. Babies can sense when a parent or caregiver is anxious or upset.
Generally, separation anxiety peaks between 10 months and 18 months, and subsides as they get closer to their second birthday.