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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