10 months old
It’s always hard to leave your baby in someone else’s care – even when your baby doesn’t seem to bat an eye. Yet there’s a new development that will make your departure that much more heartbreaking: separation anxiety.
A few months ago, leaving your baby for the night caused more tears from you than anyone else, but now you might see a panicked, frantic reaction from your baby before you leave the house. This extremely common, perfectly normal development actually means that your baby is maturing. However, no parent (or baby) is happy to see this developmental milestone in action.
You may have been experiencing separation anxiety for a few months, or perhaps it hasn’t hit in your household yet (considering it usually peaks between 12 and 18 months). Even if you can leave the house without uncontrollable crying and a baby gripped to your leg, you’ll soon need these tips:
How to handle separation anxiety
There are several different approaches you can take:
- If you have to leave for work, a date night or doctor’s appointment, try leaving your baby with someone he or she knows and is comfortable with, like a family member or close friend.
- If that’s not possible – such as during the workday – here are some babysitter tips:
- We know you’ll be extra careful in choosing a babysitter, for many reasons, but be especially certain that he or she can handle the relentless crying and screaming that might happen when you leave the house. You want someone who will be patient, loving and understanding – no matter what.
- How you interact with the sitter is important, because babies pick up on our feelings and our level of trust.
- Get your baby acquainted with the new sitter, if possible. Have the sitter come 15 to 30 minutes before you leave the house, so that your baby can get comfortable with him or her.
- If you’re leaving your baby at a daycare center, see if you can slowly transition your baby by staying with him or her for an hour or so on the first day, and then slowly leaving your baby alone for longer increments of time. It will be easier on your baby than being dropped off at a strange place for an entire 8 hours.
- Start slow at home, too, such as an hour or so away for the first time. Then you can increase subsequent separations by 15 or 20 minutes. Show your baby that you’ll always come back home before staying out for an entire night.
- Limit the number of times you’re separated from your baby.
- The concept of infant autonomy is relatively a Western idea, as most mothers around the world aren’t separated from their babies much at all. If you’re following an attachment-parenting lifestyle (i.e. baby wearing, co-sleeping, nursing on demand, etc.), then you might not feel comfortable leaving your infant’s side. Separation anxiety will pass eventually, but it’s impossible to know when.
- Even if you somehow make it through 18 months without having to leave your little one’s side (an impossible feat in today’s culture), some children can experience bouts of separation anxiety throughout the preschool years as well.
- Certain life events can trigger separation anxiety, like moving, getting a new babysitter or the arrival of a new baby.
Regardless, here are tips on how to handle separation from your baby:
- Leave after naps and/or mealtime since hunger and exhaustion can make their anxiety much worse.
- Always say goodbye – but make it quick. It’s tempting to sneak out the back door and avoid the guilt-inducing tears, but your baby will be much more upset if he or she has no idea where you went. And overly dramatic, drawn-out goodbyes will only signal that something’s wrong.
- Reassure your baby that you’ll be back soon. Your baby’s anxiety is real, so it’s important to be calm and reassuring. It’s also a good idea to give a time frame for when you’ll be back (i.e. “I’ll be back after your nap!”), even if your baby can’t quite understand it yet.
- Be upbeat. Don’t show that you’re sad or upset when leaving, which your baby will pick up on. Instead, be enthusiastic about how much fun your little one will have, and make sure to say you’ll be back soon.
- Once you leave, don’t immediately come back. This will only make it harder on your baby.
If your baby is still frantic after weeks of going to daycare or being left with a sitter, you might want to reevaluate the situation. Does your baby feel uncomfortable with the caregiver? Are you giving off any negative vibes, such as by crying, prolonging your goodbyes or being inconsistent? Also understand that babies experience different severity levels of separation anxiety, so talk to your doctor if you’re having an especially difficult time.
Separation anxiety at bedtime
It isn’t only workday mornings and afternoon outings that cause separation anxiety, but bedtime as well. Again, your baby is experiencing true anxiety at the prospect (and reality) of being separated from you, and doing so in a dark, empty bedroom can be quite frightening for your baby and toddler.
Again, there is an option that avoids separation anxiety altogether: co-sleeping. However, many parents are anxious to have their own sleeping space and some babies sleep better with more room to roll around. If your baby is sleeping in his or her own crib, here are some tips to follow:
- Continue to be consistent with your bedtime routine, and make it as happy and peaceful as you can.
- Give your baby something to sleep with that smells like mommy. Spend some time cuddling with your baby’s favorite stuffed animal or small blanket, so that it absorbs some of your scent.
- How you choose to put your baby to sleep is up to you, whether you’re implementing sleep-training techniques (to teach your baby how to sleep on his or her own), or you prefer to rock, sing and nurse your baby to sleep. Whichever method you choose, be consistent.
- When/if your baby cries after you’ve put him in his or her crib, you can go back in to briefly reassure your baby that everything is fine – in a confident, calm tone, of course. Lingering, turning on the light and picking up your baby will only make matters worse.
- Again, be consistent in your approach, tone and even with your phrases (“Goodnight, sweetheart! Mommy loves you!”)