Baby > Your new baby > Six months to one year > Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety explained plus suggestions as to ways to make this developmental phase easier for you and your baby.
Dropping your baby off at nursery, with a carer or even with a well known family member can be traumatic experience for you and your little one, and is not helped by your baby's powerful set of lungs screaming for you to come back. This, of course is heart wrenching, but is in fact a normal part of your baby's development and another milestone they must go through during the early months and years of life.

The term 'separation anxiety' is defined by child psychologists as the developmental stage during which children experience anxiety when separated from their primary carer. The anxiety and distress that leaving your baby causes is a sign of the strong bonds and attachments formed between you combined with the fact that babies and toddlers do not understand the concept of time and therefore when and if you will return to them; its no wonder separation anxiety is a common occurrence.

It is after six months of age when separation from you really sets the wheels of anxiety in motion, as your child will, at the this age, start to register strangers and realise you are walking away without them. Separation anxiety affects different babies at different times and to different extents, however generally it starts to occur at around seven months, peaking at roughly a year of age and then starts to decline at the age of three.

Although this stage of your baby's development is one most will have to go through there are several ways to try and make this traumatic experience slightly easier.

Before leaving your baby with someone new in a new place, try and introduce this gradually, for example walk past the location several times with baby to enforce the idea that this is safe place to be left. A favourite toy may seem an obvious thing to leave with your little one, and this can do wonders to help with the lack of the home environment and your presence. Try not to go back and check on baby once you have originally left, as this will prolong the distress. An obvious but again beneficial method is to introduce an area/person whilst you are around, for example stay for their first nursery session; this will gradually let your baby know that this place is safe as you have been there too.

Although anxiety caused by separation is common, and in most cases typical of the first few years of your baby's life, if you feel this separation is deeper then just distress by your absence it is important to look into the issue. Talk to the person who you leave your child with, whether this is a nursery nurse or family member, regarding the care they are giving your baby and their behaviour after you have left. If you are concerned about separation anxiety causing more prolonged upset and distress, talk it through; you have to be happy when, where and with whom you are leaving your baby.

Separation anxiety is traumatic and can seem like it will never stop, but it does with time. Your baby will gradually learn that although you leave them, you do come back; once a routine has been established it will all become a lot easier for all involved.
Author : Elizabeth Stansfield

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Two things i'd like to comment on. Firstly separation anxiety, I have two kids 4 and 2, they have both suffered from it. 1st child went to nursery 3 days a week from 1 year old. 2nd child has never been left. 1'st child suffered with SA quite a bit, hated being left, would snuggle in when I collected her. If I was ever later in collecting her (other mum's been and collected their kids first and she felt left) then she'd be upset. Second child I've been home with, he's been clingy at times but never upset and I've found that it's been much easier. I can't help but think that it's trying to do things without them before they're ready that causes a lot of the problems. Of course if you NEED to work then the best thing is lots of cuddles and reassurance - you can't do more and they do grow out of it.
The second thing I'd like to comment on is what SHAWTY said about sleep - if a child wakes in the night, we had no sleep with our 1st child for first year our second child has had no such probs because we worked out our mistakes. Solution seems to be, past the age of 6 months, if they wake in the night DO NOT FEED THEM MILK, if they are really upset then water but the reason they are waking if FOR the milk (sorry for all the shouting but wish someone had said this to me 1st time round)! Let them cry for a bit, 1/4 an hr at the very most unless the crying has gone all wavering and is subsiding to every other minute in which case they're going to sleep. If you can't let them cry, put them in their cot and sit next to them with hand on them,(you'll be there a while)they will go to sleep if they're tired. The other thing, if they nap for more than 2 hrs in afternoon or after 4pm, don't expect them to want to sleep at 7/8pm, they won't be tired, wake them up! Ifthey miss their nap and fall asleep after 4, leave em for 15mins then wake them up. That way they'll be tired when you put them down. Once asleep and they wake up, put back in cot and put hand on them for a bit - or leave them to cry if you prefer. Sometimes we found leaving to cry for 10 minutes made them sleepy so then they'd go to sleep with your hand on them. Hope some of this helps a mum out there xxx
by Mummyotwo 14th Oct 2013, 12:48pm
For the first eight months of my son's life were as a social butterfly. He enjoyed the attention of new people and smiled at any friendly face.
Then he hit the 9-month mark, and everything changed. "Suddenly, my husband and I were the only people who could touch him.If I made a move toward the door, he would start screaming. I was just racked with guilt every time I had to go somewhere without him.
I try to give him play time alone, where he can learn that Mommy will come back and hopefully it will work... Just love em as much as you can when you are there and so that way they know that you do when you are gone.. at least thats what I try to do and my opinion is about worth two cents!! :
by Dhanushi 5th Dec 2011, 10:30am
what's up? what do i do to receive my weekly update on my sons development. anyway, he turned six month on 5th of march 2011. i highly solicite your support cos i am new a mum and the experince is new and exciting to me.
by 4446 8th Mar 2011, 6:04pm
My baby is 14 months and since starting full time nursery 2 months ago, won't sleep all night (she was sleeping 7-7) before and I can't leave her alone in the front room with the baby gate locked, even when she knows I am just in the kitchen getting her dinner! I assume that she is experiencing separation anxiety, which probably doesn't help that she is with other children and adults the whole time she is at nursery, so when she comes home she doesn't want to be on her own. Tried the cry it our routine at night which results in a tantrum for hours, throwing herself backwards against the cot and will not settle until I give her a bottle of milk. Help, I'm soooo tired!
by MummyMartin 27th Oct 2010, 9:32am
My daugther has just turned 10 months old. She has always been quite clingy but as she has got more mobile, as long as I'm in sight she seems happy most of the time to play on the floor. She has now been going to a childminder 3 days a week for the last 2 months. We have highs and lows, generally tears when I first drop her off. However, our childminder has commented that we need to start working together in improving how clingy she is, as apparently in the last couple of weeks more so, she is only happy when either the child minder is holding or sitting with her. If the childminder for example has to get the other childrens food ready (even still in sight to my daughter) she screams the place down (and she doesn't have a cry you can easily ignore!). Any suggestions?
by freddie78 27th Aug 2010, 4:40pm
My son who is now one has been going to nursery since the age of 5months, its always the same people and same children and normal routine.
The Last month & Half hes Been crying and getting himself into a state before we even go through the door once hes settled in and ive left he seems ok and when i go to pick him up his legs cant go fast enough for me to pick him up and hug him...
Not really 2 sure how to deal with this as it upsets me but makes me feel loved when i pick him up...!
by OohMama 18th May 2010, 5:39pm
My son is nearly 4 and has been going to nursery for 8 months and still screams and fights for me not to leave him which is really difficult, at first he was only going for a short while as he screamed too much and i had to collect him early as he was in too much distress. I've tried gifts for being good and stickers if he smiles and i also take things with us for him to do but these only work for a couple of days and he will scream at least once a week this week has been one of the worst and it seems to be getting harder. He loves nursery and enjoys himself once he has calmed down but its the initial upset that is a problem does anyone have any ideas which they have tried. he starts school in 5 Months and its going to be really bad if i can not settle him soon.
by Tonykast 18th May 2010, 5:21pm
hi there my little boy is just turned one fairly advanced been walking from 10 months and really needed interaction of nursery for his develpment which he now goes to 2 full days a week. i have 2 issues, firstly he has never slept through and often wakes several times a night. he eats very very well but LOVES his milk. he has 8oz bottle when goes to bed at 730pm happily on his own and when wakes approx midnight he has another one again happily. then the fun begins throughtout the night he will wake several times screaming sometimes more milks settles him(but prefer to give him water as i think this is too mmuch milk and breakfast is not bothered with) is it time to send him to controlled crying bootcamp? am i ever going to get a night of unbroken sleep? another issue is seperation anxiety now as soon as he sees me to collect him at nursery having had a lovely day he cries and this does not stop from picking him up all through night.....ios nice to know he loves me but its driving me mad! is it the reassuring approach or toughen up?
by shawty 18th May 2010, 5:14pm
My daughter is almost 7 months and she and I have been together non-stop since birth..I am not working and spend every moment with her. She is very attached to me as I am to her. Her father and I are not together and he is wanting to take her for 2 weeks for the holidays..Se has not seen him since she was 4 months old because he lives out of state now caring for his sister who has cancer. Is this going to be ok? I can't imagine what she is going to do when I just bring her to the airport and say good bye for 2 weeks...This terrifies me! Anyone faced with a similar situation?
by LJK 25th Nov 2009, 9:42am
my daughter is 3 and 3months and never leaves me cant get her to settle at nursery !!! she is my 3rd child think this is seperation anxiety what do i do !!! stressed mum !!!!
by pmc73 19th Nov 2009, 9:21am
My 2 year old is starting play group. I dropped him off last week and he cried asking for me. We have been attending the centre together at mother and baby since i was pregnant. he know the staff well. any tips?
by ykceb 20th Oct 2009, 12:32pm
This is what we did with our daughter when we first started a bedtime "routine". We woke her a little after the last feed and said goodnight, then put her down and walked away. Left her crying for 5 minutes then went in to her to touch her and whisper it was all ok, then left again. She then cried for 10 minutes before we did the same, then 15 minutes, etc. Our daughter was a lot younger and it only took 3 nights and about 4 interventions each night, but why don't you try it. If you can't do it like this, they say you can just keep moving your chair further towards the door, then out the door but still in sight, then out of sight but still heard by her, but this process takes longer.
And how about some time away from them.? Don't feel guilty that you have caused this problem because you probably haven't, but it will do you and them good to be apart for a bit. You will appreciate meeting up again, as will they. That's a wonderful feeling! You could leave them with someone who knows them really well. Can you walk away for 10 minutes as a start??
by kvsh 14th Apr 2009, 12:54pm
Help, I am a mommy to 1 year old twins my little girl has a real anxiety problem in the night,she will always fall asleep after her night time bottle, but will always wake shortly after and gets into such a state, but will only calm with me and will stay calm as long as I am in the room, she will check every few seconds to check that I am still there, the minute I walk towards the door she starts again, this can go on for hours. I feel responsible as from birth I have had no time away from them.
by Cross198 16th Mar 2009, 9:22am