Soothing your baby's separation anxiety How to reduce angst when saying good-bye By Gina Roberts-Grey, LCSW
illustration by Jana Christy
Enjoying a quiet evening out with a spouse or spending a productive day at work can be difficult if leaving home is fraught with bouts of crying and clinging as your baby struggles. Separation anxiety is typical and learning how to help babies through this stage will benefit children and parents.
Babies as young as 5 months experience separation anxiety. As they become increasingly alert, babies become more aware their parents provide security and stability.
Separation anxiety is the result of several powerful factors in a baby's life. At this stage, babies are learning about strong emotions such as anger, loss, disappointment and fear. The combination of the young emotions with their developing abilities to process information can trigger very strong reactions. The crying and distress is a natural reaction.
Young children have a difficult time understanding that even though their parents are out of sight, they're not gone forever. Children's inability to understand time adds to their anxiety. To a 9-month-old child, 15 minutes is an eternity.
Most babies outgrow this phase before reaching age 1. Your baby will develop confidence and independence as you help him or her sort through separation fears. Here are some suggestions to help ease separation anxiety:
1 Start slow. Schedule a sitter for short trips to the store, cleaner's or a walk around the block. Begin with absences of 10 to 15 minutes and gradually increase the time you're gone to boost your child's confidence you will return. Stick to the time allotment to build your child's trust. When your baby shows comfort with short intervals, begin to progressively increase the time your child spends with a babysitter.
2 Be consistent. Familiarity breads contentment in babies. If possible, schedule the same caregiver or babysitter. If your baby goes to daycare, inquire if the facility routinely schedules the same caregivers for the same children so your baby can feel more secure. Bring along a favorite blanket, animal or memento for added reassurance.
3 Bring the care to the baby. When you're going out, try to have a caregiver in your home instead of relocating your child. Familiar surroundings, sounds and smells will reduce the stress and ease some of your child's anxiety.
4 Set a routine. If you're going out for an evening, spend a few quiet moments with your child before you leave. Reading a book, rocking or sitting with a favorite toy will give your baby extra attention and help ease him or her into the transition to the babysitter.
5 Take some time. If your child is having trouble in the mornings before you leave for work, take advantage of the time spent together eating breakfast or riding in the car on the way to daycare. Focus on your baby. Talk directly to her, sing along to nursery rhymes in the car or take a moment to sit with your baby and her caregiver before you leave for work.
6 Don't look back. After you've said your good-byes, don't go back into the house for a final check. Your unexpected return and second departure will trigger another round of anxiety-your child will have to adjust all over again. If your curiosity gets the best of you, wait at least 20 minutes and make a quick telephone call to check. This will give baby time to relax and become accustomed to the caregiver.
7 Be a good role model. If you're suffering from separation anxiety your baby will, too. Look to positively influence your child's response to the caregiver. Greet the babysitter with your child when the sitter arrives. Spend a few moments talking with the caregiver to demonstrate your comfort. Be enthusiastic and show your baby this person is someone you trust. When your child sees your wide smile and hears the calm interaction between you and the sitter, he or she will sense your confidence in this new person.
8 Don't sneak out. Trying to avoid a separation scene will not prevent your child from becoming upset. The difference is your baby will wonder what happened to her parents instead of seeing you walk out the door. A short good-bye will give your child the chance to face your absence. This will further develop your baby's ability to process emotions and understand that your absence is not permanent.
9 Remain calm. Talking calmly to your child before you depart leaves a positive impression he or she will be inclined to follow.
10 Stick to the schedule. Come back when you say you will-whether it's 15 minutes or two hours later. You'll build your baby's confidence with the periods of separation.
Gina Roberts-Grey, is a mother, a writer and licensed clinical social worker in Crystal Lake.