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Parent guide: separation anxiety

Baby separation is a struggle for many parents.

When the moment arrives to leave your baby for the first time, you may start to think ‘what if something happens?’, ‘will my baby be safe?’, ‘will they be sad?’, even if it’s only for a short period of time.

Although you know you left your baby in safe hands, you may still feel anxious since you won’t be able to see what they’re doing.

But leaving your baby for the first time and getting over separation anxiety is beneficial both for you and your baby.

In this post, we’ll explore why separation anxiety happens, how to handle this and tips for separation anxiety.

Why separation anxiety happens

Previously, your baby may have been calm when you left the room or was happy to be held by people they didn’t know, so it may be odd when they start crying whenever you’re not there or if strangers are close.

This kind of separation anxiety is a sign your baby now realises how dependent they are on the people that care for them.

As they become more aware of their surroundings, your baby’s developing relationship with the people closest to them means they won’t feel as safe without you.

This often results in tears when you leave them, even if it’s only for a little bit.

This reaction can make it very difficult to leave your baby in someone else’s care. Let’s now explore how you can handle separation anxiety…

Handling separation anxiety

It’s normal to be worried about how leaving your little one can affect them and becoming upset with their tears.

But it’s important to remember that it’s natural for your little one to feel anxious without you – there is no reason to feel guilty when you need to leave them for a while.

It’s actually a sign of how well you have bonded with them.

Focus on helping your little one understand and cope with their feelings so that they feel more secure. They will quickly learn that if you leave them, they will be okay, and you will come back.

When your baby is old enough talk to them about what is happening, where you’re going and when you’ll be back. This will help put them at ease.

By leaving your little one with someone, you help them develop mechanisms which will help them cope without you – this is an important step towards them developing their independence.

Don’t be too hard on yourself when going through this stage, separation anxiety is very common and normal to feel.

Tips for separation anxiety

  • Practice short separations at first

Start with trail runs – leave your baby in someone’s care for a few minutes while you go to the local shop. Leave them with someone they know well and in a safe setting.

Then gradually work towards making separations longer/in varied settings.

  • Leave something comforting with them

You should leave your little one with their favourite toy or teddy bear. But it can also help to leave something of yours behind.

It can be a scarf or sweater – something with your scent on it can reassure them whilst you’re away.

  • Make goodbyes positive

When you leave your baby, however sad or anxious you feel, smile and wave goodbye happily – otherwise your little one will pick up on your feelings and become more distressed.

Try to keep these short as well. A quick kiss, hug and ‘bye bye’ are most effective as otherwise, your little one can quickly become more anxious and clingier.

  • Talk about things you’ll do later

Chat with your toddler about what you’re going to do when you see them later so that they have something to look forward to.

For example, you could say: "When Mummy comes back to pick you up, we'll go for a walk in the park together”.

If you’re worried or concerned

It’s normal for babies and toddlers to cry when separating from their primary caregiver. But as babies get older, they will begin to understand that people and things exist even when they can’t see them.

Until this happens, it’s important that your little one’s anxiety doesn’t stop them from experiencing new things like socialising and learning at nursery – it also shouldn’t stop you whether that’s going to work, doing your usual chores or socialising.

If the separation anxiety is causing a lot of distress either for you or your little one or if it’s going on for longer than a few weeks speak to your health visitor. They will be able to advise on the best course of action and provide you with additional resources.



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