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Preparing for Separation Anxiety from Birth

Separation anxiety is a common phrase thrown around in the older baby and toddler years, but rarely is it given much thought in early infancy.  Separation anxiety is a normal part of infant and toddler development, and although it can be such a tough phase to move through, it’s a sign that your baby is growing and developing and seeing the world through a new perspective.  Separation anxiety typically starts in babies around 7 - 9 months old and can come as a surprise to parents when their baby previously accepted a different caregiver with ease and now all of a sudden sobs in distress when their most special people are out of sight or initiate a goodbye ritual. 

All children go through separation struggles, but how subtle or severe this time is depends on the child’s temperament and their relationship with their primary caregivers.  Temperament is something we’re born with and has to do with how we naturally relate to people, events and change.  In terms of the parent-child relationship, there’s a lot we can do to set children up for an easier separation anxiety phase through how we relate with them beginning in the newborn days. 

What does this mean for parents and caregivers?

ALWAYS tell your baby or toddler where you are going and when you plan to be back.  Babies are learning to trust and are reassured when they know where you are.  Even if this knowledge upsets them, it’s better to tell them what to expect rather than keep them guessing and wondering if you will ever return. Babies who are left wondering where their parents/caregivers disappeared to are less likely to engage in play; if this becomes a habit, they are more likely to cling to you when you are together because they will worry that you might disappear if they let you out of their sight. 

Acknowledge how your child’s distress about separation makes you feel.  How you perceive the situation greatly impacts your response and how smooth the separation will go.  It’s normal for young children to be upset and disappointed when you leave them.  You are the most important person in the world to them and they just want to be with you.  When you leave, they don’t have the option to follow and that realization makes them sad.  Their tears and protests are understandable and they’re just starting to learn that they can find joy apart from your presence.  Having compassion for their feelings about the experience is not only appropriate and kind but it’s helpful for moving forward through this difficult season.  

Telling even the youngest babies when you plan to leave the room, where you are going and when you will return sets the tone for separation struggles that will come in due course by showing them a pattern of always preparing them for your departure and always coming back.  They will quickly learn that they can trust you to be honest with them and that they can become engrossed in their play without needless worry that when they look for you you will be missing.  

Whether you’re nervous about upcoming separation from your baby or in the throes of a difficult season of separation anxiety with your toddler, book a consultation today so you feel more at ease and prepared for supporting both your child’s and your own needs during this unique time.  Together we can create a plan that will help you navigate separations with confidence. 


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