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Our Blog: July 13, 2011

How to Separate Your Child from Anxiety

Separation anxiety is real. Babies, children of all ages, and even adults can feel it. Wikipedia describes it as:

“…a psychological condition in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment (like a father, mother, grandparents, and brothers or sisters).”

Though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of child development, it can be unsettling. Understanding what your child is going through and having a few coping strategies can help both of you get through it.

Babies adapt pretty well to other caregivers. Parents probably feel more anxiety about being separated than infants do! As long as their needs are being met, most babies younger than six months adjust easily to other people.

Somewhere between the ages of four and seven months, your baby begins to develop a sense of object permanence, an understanding that items that go away have not disappeared; they are just not present at the moment. This new developmental understanding is the key to separation anxiety that some children begin to exhibit around nine months of age. Once a baby understands that a caregiver still exists, even though out of sight, the baby will do anything possible to keep that loved one nearby. So, the good news is that even though it is heart-wrenching, separation anxiety is one sign that your child is developing cognitively (of course, there are some children who do not go through this stage, and that is normal as well).

There are some things that you can do to help you and your child get through this stage:


  • Have a consistent good-bye routine and be firm when you are leaving. The more you hesitate and/or turn around for one more kiss, the harder it will be for your child to separate.
  • Never sneak away. Your child is just starting to develop trust, and needs to trust that you will not abandon him/her. Sneaking away may make it easier for you, but it is emotionally harder on your child. And sneaking out is often counterproductive as your child may begin to cling and not let you out of his or her sight.
  • Leave something of yours with your child. A shirt that smells like you, and/or a special picture, will provide comfort during the day.

Separation anxiety is difficult for you and your child, no matter how old he or she is. Know that with love and patience, your child will make it through this stage. And be assured that as soon as you are truly out of sight, most children are easily comforted and play happily until you return.


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