Babies quickly learn that other people are vital to their happiness and their survival, which means that they form very strong bonds with their caretakers! Unfortunately, babies don’t have the ability to understand fully how the world works. They don’t know what makes people appear or disappear, and they don’t know if beloved people will come back ever again once they are out of sight. Craving closeness to their caretakers is something that babies do to protect themselves from these potential losses.
It is actually a positive sign when your baby expresses some separation anxiety! It means that your child is wonderfully attached to you, and she doesn’t want to be apart from you. Congratulations: all of your hard work is paying off!
Eventually your little one will learn more about the world, and he will understand that everything is still okay when the two of you are separated. He will learn new ways of communicating and getting his needs met, and he will learn that you always come back to him. However, it can be very trying to get to this point! Until that turning point, you can help your child learn to understand, accept, and deal with separation by trying some of the following ideas.
Encourage Independent Play
Oftentimes we act as if baby can never be awake and alone, and we feel the need to always entertain and interact with them. While playing with your baby is an incredible thing, it is also important for your children to learn to be content by themselves as well. Often children wake up in the morning, or after a nap, and are happy to play with a toy or simply daydream. Giving your child this quiet time alone can be a wonderful gift to them. Of course, go to your baby if she is calling to you or fussing, but if she is content, slow down and let her explore her world on her own time.
Avoid the In-Arms Transfer
Physically handing your baby over to the sitter or daycare provider can produce a lot of anxiety for your baby, so to avoid this there are a few things you can do. You, the babysitter, and your baby can all sit and play on the floor together for a few minutes, or you can sit your baby in a swing, or you can sit him in his high chair with a distracting snack. Have the babysitter engage your child’s attention then say a quick and cheerful goodbye. Once you are gone, then your sitter can pick up the baby and be “the rescuer” to help them bond in your absence.
Play the Bye-Bye Game
Practice separating from your baby with the Bye-Bye Game throughout your daily life. This is a Peek-A-Boo type game to show baby that you still exist even when she can’t see you. The game can start as regular Peek-A-Boo, but you will also want to implement it when you walk into another room. Say “Bye-Bye” to your baby, duck around a corner, wait a few seconds, and then pop out and say, “Hi Baby!” You can increase the interval slowly as your child grows older and understands the game, and this will help when you need to leave the house or simply leave the room.
Avoid Separating When Possible
As with most things in babyhood, separation anxiety is a normal stage of development. It is perfectly okay to avoid separating from your child when they are going through a particularly rough patch of separation anxiety. Some people will try to convince you that you must force your child to deal with separations head-on; however, there are no studies that prove that making a child face their fears head-on result in a quicker or easier outcome.
Take the time to be respectful of your child’s needs and gently and lovingly nudge him towards the goal of independence. Of course, there may be times where you need to separate from your child, then you can follow the tips here, but it is important to evaluate your own needs and your entire family’s needs in each of those individual situations.
Read more in The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.