Do you feel like you have to keep your baby strapped to you at all times because they won’t let you put them down? Your baby might be experiencing separation anxiety. I will be sharing what I have done to help both of my kids with this form of anxiety. What does separation anxiety look like? Children express this differently than others. My children expressed it by excessively crying, only wanting me or my husband, constantly wanting to be picked up, calming down the moment they are picked up, and crying when you’re out of sight. Why does this happen? Separation anxiety happens when your baby begins to learn about something called object permanence. In simple terms, it means that your baby knows you exist even when you’re out of sight. The anxiety begins because they do not understand when you’ll come back.
Separation anxiety is hard for everyone involved. It’s important to be patient and understanding of your baby. Keep in mind that separation anxiety can start as early as 4 months and can even show up as late as age 4. Right now, more than ever, many kids are experiencing more anxiety than usual since we’ve been in a pandemic for the last year and socialization has been at a minimum. This is the case for our family. My daughter, Hope, has had very little socialization compared to what Jude had at this age. She is 6 months old and she has been home with me since she was born. We’re beginning to socialize a bit more with extended family and she is having a hard time socializing with them. Since it is usually just us, she mostly wants me and is experiencing some separation anxiety. Here are some things I have tried that have worked with her. Keep in mind that not all babies are the same and trial and error is sometimes what we have to resort to.
With Hope, I’ve had to deal with separation anxiety in two different ways; when I’m home and when I drop her off at her grandparents house. In my case, it is easier calming her down when she is dropped off than when she’s at home with me. When we’re home and it’s just me and the kids, she wants to be held and not be left alone. If she sees me running around and not giving her 100% of my attention she gets frustrated. So, here is what I have tried to help both me and her.
When dropping off:
- Explain what you’re doing. Yes even when they’re that young. It’s a great habit to get into. It sets expectations and helps the child understand.
- Be honest. Don’t lie to them and say “I’ll be right back” when you know it’ll be several hours. If done repeatedly, it will hurt the trust earned from your child.
- Be brief. Don’t make it an extended goodbye. Even if they cry, just acknowledge their feelings, tell them you love them and go. Do not linger because it makes it harder on everyone.
- Don’t just vanish. It is scary to them and it can hurt the trust that has been created. Even if they cry, in the long run, it is better for them to see you leave.
- Be consistent in the rules you want to apply.
- Give. You can pick something that you can leave behind that smells like you or reminds them of you.
I used all of these tactics when I was working and had to drop Jude off. He was used to it in no time and was always okay.
When in the house:
- Needs: If your child is crying, ask yourself if it’s separation anxiety or do they need something. Make sure all their needs are met: hunger, sleep, clean diaper. Also, take into consideration if your child has any medical issues at that moment (reflux, teething, a cold, fever, etc.) Hope had reflux, separation anxiety and was teething all at the same time. I was more flexible with her on those days and I used my carrier when she needed extra loving.
- Set up. If all of those needs are met, then use what you’ve got at home to help you keep your baby preoccupied. Our living room is specifically set up for our baby’s needs. We have her pack-n-play, bouncy swing, bumbo seat, and her rocker. We move things in and out of the living room as needed.
- Rotate. Once you have your living space set up in the way that best meets you and your baby’s needs, use those items in a rotation. So, for example, if I know Hope is having a bad day with her anxiety, then I will set her up in one of the easily movable seats that she has and I will place her near me while I do chores. That way she is still watching me but not tied to me. She’s usually pretty content when we do that. Once she’s tired of the seat I rotate her to a different one.
- Movement: If the seats make her bored, we get her moving. Hope is at an age where she can sit and roll from front to back and vice versa so that is why we decided to pull out the pack-n-play. She is able to sit there with her boppy and a few toys. She loves being mobile. It helps me to know she’s safe when she’s in there and it allows me to get things done. I may not always be in her line of sight but she is in mine. This has helped a lot with her anxiety. Although she can’t see me, I usually am singing to her or talking to her or Jude and she stays calm when she hears my voice.
- Smell. Give your baby something that smells like you. This helps them calm down and reminds them of you.
- Attention. If your baby is not calming down, give them attention. Acknowledge their stress. Stay near them until they calm down. If there is no calming them down, pick them up for a moment, calm them, then place them back down and stay near them again. Sing and use toys to distract them. You can begin the rotation with your pack-n-play, swings, and chair.
- Time. Give it time. Your baby will eventually understand that you’re not leaving forever. I know how stressful it can be but if you stay consistent you’ll both be successful.
You’ve got this mama! If you’ve tried something that has worked for you and your little one, feel free to share with us on our Facebook page!