Separation Anxiety

What is separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is a kind of cognitive development in babies where they begin to realize the importance of people in their life, developing a deep bond of attachment towards them. Therefore, the long term or short term absence of the mother or primary caregiver makes them anxious and upset.

How long does separation anxiety last in infants

There is no fixed age for separation anxiety to commence as infants have their own ways of developing and exhibiting emotions. However, this behavioral trait may set in by the time the baby steps into the  sixth or seventh month, peaking up between the eighth and eighteenth months. It gradually starts subsiding by their second birthday, fading away by the time they are three years old [1, 2, 11].

Symptoms of separation anxiety in babies

  • Crying [3]
  • Fussy behavior[3]
  • Clinging tightly to their parents or caregivers [4, 5]
  • Screaming [3]
  • Throwing tantrums [3, 4]

Causes of separation anxiety

Babies have a deep attachment towards their mother since the time they are in the womb, which strengthens further after birth. Beginning to develop the concept of object permanence by the seventh or eighth month, they  start realizing the existence of their mother as a separate individual who is present even when not in sight [6]. This realization makes them more reluctant to part from their mother. The possible factors triggering this anxiety include:

  • Being brought up in a nuclear family with only the parents present.
  • Having to share their mother’s affection with a younger sibling [3].
  • Being raised by a single parent [7].
  • Shifting to a new place in an unfamiliar surrounding [3].
  • Witnessing fights and stressful situation between parents.

How to deal with separation anxiety in babies

Minimize your goodbye: If you have to leave for work then do not indulge in a prolonged goodbye as it increases your baby’s distress. He will want to retain you longer not willing to get separated from you [3].

Engage your child: Whenever it is time for you to go out make sure that you engage your child in something interesting or creative to keep him busy and distracted [1].

Plan your departure according to your baby’s schedule: The level of anxiety intensifies if the baby is hungry or fatigued. Therefore, try leaving after your baby is well-fed or has completed his nap [3, 8].  Avoid making frequent visits home or to the day care to check out the well-being of your kid as it increases you baby’s agony [1].

Acquaint your baby well with the caregiver:  Try building up a proper rapport between your child and the caregiver before leaving him alone with the unfamiliar person [1]. Changing caregivers or day care centers frequently makes it difficult for the baby to adjust.

Control your feelings: Your baby’s continued crying while you depart may make you feel upset or emotional. Do not make your feelings visible, rather leave with a cheerful and smiling face.

Try leaving your baby with familiar people:  If possible try to leave your kid in the care of his grandparents or someone he is familiar with. Being with known faces makes the kid feel comfortable, helping him to cope up with your absence even better [1].

Do not go without informing:  Many parents feel that going away quietly while their children are sleeping or busy with something else may prevent a teary departure. However, this is not advisable as it breaks your child’s trust in you, making him feel even more miserable and let down.

Make your child used to your absence: If you have to resume work after the end of your maternity break, then make your child used to staying without you for some time even before your leave ends. This tactic will help him get accustomed to your absence, reducing his agony [9].

Keep your promise: If your toddler can communicate through speech then assure him that you will be back at a certain time. Attempt staying firm on your word to get your baby’s trust and confidence [8].

Be tactful while dealing with separation anxiety at night: Try to be with your child for some time before leaving him alone in the room at bedtime. Cuddle, read out or even sing while lulling your baby to sleep. If your baby or toddler wakes up in the middle of the night, reassure him tenderly and put him back to bed. However, frequent visits to his room make him more dependent on you [1, 10].

Proper guidance and initiatives taken by parents help babies in overcoming this trait as they advance in years, also making life in preschool much easy and enjoyable for him. However, if the fear of separation continues even after the fourth or fifth year, coming in the way of the child’s social and mental development, then it may take the form of Separation Anxiety Disorder [5].


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