Understanding the Milestone
Around the first birthday, many kids develop Separation anxiety i.e. getting upset when a parent tries to leave them with someone else. Though separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development, it can be unsettling. Understanding what your child is going through and having a few coping strategies ready can help both of you get through it.
Between 4-7 months of age, babies develop a sense of “object permanence.” They’re realizing that things and people exist even when they’re out of sight. Babies learn that when they can’t see mom or dad, that means they’ve gone away. In other words, out of sight no longer means out of mind. They don’t understand the concept of time, so they don’t know mom will come back, and can become upset by her absence. Whether mom is in the kitchen, in the next bedroom, or at the office, it’s all the same to the baby, who might cry until mom is nearby again.
Kids between 8 months and 1 year old are growing into more independent toddlers, yet are even more uncertain about being separated from a parent. This is when separation anxiety develops, and children may become agitated and upset when a parent tries to leave.
Such scenes may bother you, but according to experts, separation anxiety is a sign of a healthy relationship between parent and child. A child who is securely attached to his parents misses them when they go away. That’s the age your baby realizes you are the go-to person for all good things like comfort, love and security. And thanks to object permanence, his ability to remember the people and things he loves even if they’re not around. He knows his safety net is gone when you’re not there.
Expected Time period of the Milestone
The timing of separation anxiety can vary. Every child is unique and there is no set time frame for when separation anxiety appears or disappears. Some kids might go through it later, between 18 months and 2½ years of age. Some never experience it. And for others, certain life stresses can trigger feelings of anxiety about being separated from a parent, which can be a new childcare situation or caregiver, a new sibling, moving to a new place or tension at home.
But the common period of extreme neediness usually peaks between 10 and 18 months and eases by 2 years. The child should be fully out of it by age 3. Thankfully, it isn’t permanent.
Tips & Tricks to cope up with Separation Anxiety
Timing is Everything: Try not to start daycare or childcare with an unfamiliar person when your child is between the ages of 8 months and 1 year, when separation anxiety is first likely to appear. Also, try not to leave when your child is tired, hungry, or restless.
Practice Predictability: Give your child a regular daily routine with bathtime, mealtime, and bedtime rituals he can count on. It will foster a sense of security, and a secure child can adjust to parting from his parents.
Perform some Practice runs: Practice being apart from each other and introduce new people and places slowly. To increase your child’s comfort level with separation, leave him for a few short periods of time with someone he knows and trusts. Once he sees that you always return and that other caregivers are fun and loving too, try out a babysitter.
Have a meet and greet: When you choose a sitter for your child, invite her at least once to your place and play together as a group of three before you leave your child with her. If your child sees that you are comfortable with the sitter, he’s more likely to feel this way as well.
Say goodbye when you leave and keep it cheerful: Create an exit ritual during which you say a pleasant, loving and firm goodbye. Stay calm and show confidence in your child. Reassure your little one that you’ll be back and going away & returning are perfectly normal experiences. Also create a short goodbye ritual for every time because hanging around and consoling your child for long, may provoke more tears.
Head out at the same time: Goodbyes are always easier when it’s your child who does the leaving. Ask the sitter to take him for a quick trip to the park or out for a walk at the same time you head out the door. Make sure your child understands that you’re going out as well, or he’ll be doubly upset when he returns to find the house empty.
Involve your child in an activity: Wait for your toddler and her caregiver to get engaged in an activity before you leave. Then give your child a quick goodbye and head for the door. She may still cry, but the activity can serve as a distraction soon after your departure.
What Not to Worry About?
Remember that it’s just a phase which will go away with time. No parent likes to see her child feeling sad, but being an important developmental skill, your child needs to learn coping with separation. You child has to learn that there are times when he’s going to be unhappy.
When to Talk to A Professional?
For most kids, the anxiety of being apart from a parent passes without any need for medical attention. But if you have concerns, talk to your doctor.
If intense separation anxiety lasts into preschool, elementary school, or beyond and interferes with daily activities, discuss it with your doctor. It could be a sign of a rare but more serious condition known as separation anxiety disorder. Kids with this disorder fear being lost from their family members and are often convinced that something bad will happen.