If you’re a parent of a young toddler you’ve probably experienced something like this: you’re ready to leave your sixteen month old with grandma before work but discover that baby doesn’t want to be left. He clings to your leg and cries, and nothing you can do can soothe him. This is called separation anxiety, and many children, especially between the ages of ten months and thirty months, experience it.
According to the experts on babycenter.com, separation anxiety is a normal part of a child’s development, connected to a child’s growing understanding that people who leave don’t just “disappear.” Nearly all children will exhibit separation anxiety to some degree, often most strongly with their most significant caregiver. Knowing it’s a phase can help, but here are a few practical suggestions for ways to help ease separation anxiety for both parent and baby.
First, don’t act upset when your baby cries. If he sees you crying too, it’s going to make things harder. When it’s time to leave, stay upbeat and smiling as you assure your little one that you will be back.
Secondly, don’t keep running back to try to soothe your baby. This is a particularly hard one for new moms and dads, who often rush back in to “fix” whatever’s wrong. Toddlers will often calm down quickly once you’ve gone. Going back repeatedly, in an attempt to calm them, is just going to prolong their sense of stress.
The third suggestion ties in to the second: make sure you’re leaving baby with a caregiver you can trust. If baby senses you’re relaxed and at peace, that will go a long way toward helping ease the situation. The experts at kidshealth.org suggest that, if possible, don’t leave your baby with an unfamiliar or unknown caregiver, for instance in a daycare situation, when they are between 8 months and 1 year.
Finally, try not to leave your baby at a time of day when he’s feeling particularly vulnerable. If he’s overtired or very hungry, his separation anxiety will likely be more intense.
In the end, it helps to remember that separation anxiety is a normal part of growing up. As your toddler grows into the preschool years, his trust in you, and his confidence level in new situations, will grow too.