What is Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is related to the developmental stage of object permanence. When an object or person is in the child’s sight and then disappears, your baby remembers the object and person. This is object permanence. Your baby learns that a person, like his mommy, can disappear. Unfortunately, your baby does not realize that you are just gone momentarily. He thinks you have disappeared out of existence. Eventually he does learn that although you have disappeared from view, you haven’t been wiped off the face of the planet.
Who gets Separation Anxiety?
Older babies and toddlers frequently experience separation anxiety, although it is possible in preschoolers and school age children as well. The degree your baby experiences separation anxiety is related to his personality, genetics, and his environment. If a baby has anxious parents, chances are he will experience more separation anxiety than a baby with laid back parents.
Separation anxiety can start at 6-9 months, and can last through early toddlerhood. It typically comes in two waves, but the waves can blend. The first wave comes when baby understands the concept of object permanence. Your baby has just distinguished himself as a separate person, and has learned to remember important people in his life, like his mom and dad. When mom and dad leave, he panics because he thinks they have disappeared.
Your baby will most likely go through a second wave of separation anxiety in toddlerhood, before he develops his language skills. This is brought on by frustration with communication and insecurity.
What can a parent do to alleviate Separation Anxiety?
Teach your child that even though objects and people may be out of site, they still exist and will come back. With babies, play a game of peek-a-boo with your face and with objects under a cloth.
With a toddler, play a game of hide and seek. After getting his attention, tell your baby to come find you and hide in an easily found place.
Also, try not to appear anxious in front of your child when you are leaving him. Children feed on their parents’ and caregivers’ emotions. When you seem upset or anxious, this will make him even more upset.
When leaving your child in someone else’s care or in bed at sleepy time, give him a kiss and say “Bye-Bye” or “Good night”. Let him know that although you are leaving, you will come back.
Although it may be tempting to sneak out of the room, eventually he will know you have left him. If he sees you one minute and you are gone the next, this brings a feeling of insecurity. Many babies think their mommies have disappeared into thin air. Think how terrifying that would be to them. Also, if you sneak out often, your child may lose trust in your presence. He may follow you everywhere you go, just to make sure you don’t leave him again.
Separation anxiety is a very common stage in babies and toddlers. Keep your cool and be consistent, and you’ll get through this one fine.