Separation anxiety generally starts anywhere from around 8 months onwards and is a completely normal stage of development for little ones to go through. Symptoms of separation anxiety can be hard to distinguish from normal, typical behaviour. If you notice any of the below behaviours are heightened and coincide with other factors I have referred to in this blog post, it is likely that they are actually symptoms of separation anxiety:
Crying as soon as you are out of sight
Needing to be held by you more often
Challenging bedtimes or night wakes that are different to the norm
A baby going through this phase is often described as clingy, needy or molly coddled but this really isn’t the case. This is a very normal stage of development and what these little ones need is support and reassurance.
When does separation anxiety happen?
Up until around six or seven months, your baby considers the two of you as one person. They don’t understand that they are a separate entity to their parent. They start to develop the understanding that you are two separate people somewhere around the eight-month mark. Separation anxiety generally hits a peak anywhere between seven and ten months so this can be a really challenging time for sleep – typically known as the 8-month ‘sleep regression’ which also coincides with learning new skills but I’ll come onto this in a separate blog post!
There is often a peak of separation anxiety around the 18-month mark too, however this can also crop up with periods of change. Some babies are much more sensitive to it than others. If you’re unsure on whether something has triggered symptoms of separation anxiety, try and think about everything that has happened recently and what is currently going on. Just remember that children live in the environment of their parents so if there are things going on in your life, little ones are likely to sense these anxieties too. I have listed a few things to consider below:
Moving bedroom or house
Illness or bereavement that affects the family
Parent relationship difficulties
Returning to work after a long period of leave
A new sibling arriving
Starting a new childcare setting
You are your baby’s safe space. Being with you is when your baby feels safe and secure. Babies don’t know how to be confident and independent; they aren’t supposed to know this, they are babies. They depend on their parents to respond to their needs quickly, to seek comfort and to feel safe and protected.
What can you do to help?
Offer your little one as much support as they want and need. Babies, toddlers and children aren’t able to regulate their big feelings alone.
Be patient. Separation anxiety rarely disappears as quickly as it came on. Ensure that everyone involved in your little ones care keeps consistent to develop trusting relationships.
On the subject of consistency, periods of separation anxiety are not the time for change. Try to avoid any other major changes at this time.
Consider introducing a comforter to support your little one. Have this present for all feeds and sleep times (keeping in mind the safe sleep guidelines for babies under one!) to make it a familiar object. Some babies take to them and some don’t.
Create a predictable goodbye routine. Even if it’s just going from one room to another, it’s a great supportive way to practise separation and reinforcing that you will always come back.
Offer as much one to one time as you can during the day with no distractions and lots of physical reassurance.
Never sneak off when leaving your little one in the care of someone else. This can break the trust that you will always return to them.
Dealing with a little one going through separation anxiety can be physically, emotionally and mentally draining so be kind to yourself. Don’t feel guilty for needing a break. Do whatever you need to do to keep calm because this will only benefit both you and your little one.