Strategies for Coping with your Babys Separation Anxiety

Coping with your baby’s separation anxiety may not be easy for you because as a mother or a father, you are probably very sensitive to what your baby is experiencing. While an older child may be able to relay some of his or her anxiety or fear to you, a baby may not be able to do that. For example, your baby may not want you to leave. In your absence, he or she may seem to be inconsolable and cry constantly. What can you do to resolve this dilemma?

Understanding the nature of separation anxiety will help you as parents, to cope.     

What is separation anxiety?

“Separation anxiety is a developmentally normal characteristic in infants and toddlers younger than 4 years of age upon separation from their primary attachment figure.”

Many parents do not see separation anxiety in babies as being a normal reaction to their absence, when in reality most babies do experience some anxiety or fear, simply because they are accustomed to having their mothers or fathers in constant attendance and subject to their demands.

How the designated caregivers respond to the babies can determine the severity of the separation anxiety reaction. Many competent caregivers instinctively know how to comfort babies who are frightened by the absence of parental figures. They recognize the symptoms of separation anxiety and are able to reassure the babies that they are safe and loved.      

What are the symptoms of separation anxiety?

“Mild distress and clinging behavior are anticipated for short periods of time when young children are separated from their primary caregivers (attachment figures) in situations such as day care…”

Parents often return to work after babies are born and have to leave them with caregivers in various settings. At times, grandparents or other regular babysitters are able to fill in for the parents and that can solve the anxiety related problems. In situations like these, separation anxiety is generally less severe, but it can still occur.

Babies instinctively seem to know when their parents are leaving or going to be absent. Some babies will ‘make strange’ immediately when placed under the care of others, but most babies will relax almost immediately and continue to play or drift off to sleep after their parents have left them with their caregivers, even if they have been upset initially.         

When should you become concerned about separation anxiety?

“Although separation anxiety is normal for babies between ten and 18 months, you should consult your child’s doctor if her anxiety becomes so overwhelming that she is unable to do anything without you by her side or if she’s inconsolable even after you’re long gone from her presence.”

Because separation anxiety is relatively normal, knowing that babies are with competent, loving caregivers should relieve parental concern. In other words, parents should not panic.

When the separation anxiety in babies is not relieved after a reasonable length of time, notifying the parents is important. There may be things parents do that caregivers are not aware of even though they meet the babies’ basic needs. For example, does the baby usually go to sleep with a specific soother or comforting baby blanket? Should he or she be sleeping on his or her side?

Simple measures often solve the majority of separation anxiety problems, so appropriate communication with parents about their babies can prove helpful. Most parents will not object to receiving a call if their babies do not settle down after they leave. If necessary, many of them will return to check on the wellbeing of their babies, when there are indications separation anxiety is severe.       

Parental reassurance is important to babies of all ages, as well as for caregivers who may be frightened by the symptoms of separation anxiety. Babies often sense when caregivers are not comfortable when left with them, but spending time with them while the parents are present, can lessen separation anxiety later.

Your ingenuity as parents, in conjunction with caregivers, may reveal many more strategies that you can use to cope with separation anxiety in babies.