Separation anxiety is like a throwback to the newborn weeks. You’ve suddenly got a completely dependent child who can’t play on their own and won’t be put down – not even for a second.
As parents we want our children to want us, but even the mumsiest of mummies doesn’t want to be carrying a clingy baby around 24/7.
Everyone needs a bit of space sometimes, not least a stressed out mama.
But when separation anxiety hits, it can really pile on the pressure. The age it comes at is particularly aggravating as it is often just as a mother is returning to work after maternity leave, so it adds to the already overwhelming mummy guilt.
The good news is that separation anxiety is totally normal and it does end. As I am going through this delightful phase with my youngest right now I thought I would give you the lowdown on this tricky part of the baby’s development, and how to survive it!
Although there are several things you can do, there is one really important thing that will help you and your baby no end! Read on to find out more.
What is separation anxiety?
It is when your baby or toddler cries and becomes clingy when you leave them, even if it is just for a short time. It can be particularly difficult when leaving a child at their nursery or even when leaving your child with their other parent.
When does separation anxiety start and how long does it last?
Separation anxiety can start from any time after around six months. It can then continue until your child is age three.
Why do children get separation anxiety?
It is a totally normal part of mental development and happens when your child realises you still exist when you leave a room. It is also part of the realisation of how dependent they are on you, their primary carer. It should therefore be seen as a good sign – your child loves you!
What can I do?
The key thing to remember with separation anxiety is that it will pass, but there is one big thing you can do to help your baby get through it.
When it comes to leaving your baby with someone else, whether it be a grandparent or childcare provider, just leave.
Say your goodbyes, reassure them that you will be back and just go. One of the worst things you can do is linger or keep leaving and coming back again. This just prolongs the child’s distress at you leaving
Most children will stop crying after a few minutes when they are distracted by a toy or a game.
But there are plenty of other things you should also be doing as part of this to ease your child’s distress. One of the key things is to get them used to other people who will also be caring for them, so it’s not such a shock when they are left with them.
Make sure grandparents have lots of playtime with them when you are there, and when it comes to childcare have plenty of settling-in visits to get your child used to their new carer.
Check out these tips from Dr Angharad Rudkin, a clinical psychologist, from the NHS website:
Practise short separations from your baby to begin with
You could start by leaving them in someone else’s care for a few minutes while you nip to the local shop. Leave your baby with someone they know well so they still feel comfortable and safe in your absence. Gradually work towards longer separations, and then leaving them in less familiar settings.
Talk about what you’ll do together later
Talk to your toddler about what you’re going to do when you see them again so they have something to look forward to with you. For example, you could say: “When Mummy comes back to pick you up, we’ll go to the shop together to get food for dinner.”
Leave something comforting with your baby
It may comfort your baby to have something they identify with you – like a scarf with your scent on or a favourite toy – close by. This may reassure them while you are away.
Make saying goodbye a positive time
When you leave your baby, however sad or worried you may be feeling, smile and wave goodbye confidently and happily, otherwise they will pick up on your tension. By giving your baby experience of saying goodbye then having happy reunions, you are teaching them an important life lesson.
How can I make drop-offs at childcare easier?
So when it comes to childcare, you need to just say your goodbyes and leave. But how can you make this easier on you and your child when one, or both, of you is in floods of tears?
Have a ritual for saying goodbye, so that you always say the same thing including reassurance that you will be back.
Bring a favourite toy that belongs to your child that they can keep at nursery with them.
Telephone the childcare provider 30 minutes after you’ve left to find out how they are getting on. You will probably be amazed at how quickly they calmed down.
Buy yourself a coffee/chocolate bar/smoothie. Anything that makes you perk up a bit if you’ve just had a particularly hard drop-off.
Remind yourself that the crying sounds way worse than what it really is and this too shall pass.
Does your child have separation anxiety? What have you done to try to ease your child’s anxiety?