The second half of a baby’s first year is a time of much joy and relief for new parents. The baby becomes more regular in her patterns, she begins to learn how to communicate her needs, and she no longer cries for seemingly no reason. But even though things tend to be relatively smooth in these months, many new issues arise toward the end of the first year. Separation anxiety, which takes the form of tearful fussiness when separated from one or both parents, is the one that parents most often complain of. Though it is a perfectly normal part of a child’s development, it can be frustrating for parents.
How separation anxiety develops
Younger babies are usually quite comfortable being passed to a nonparent caregiver. During the middle months of the first year, however, babies develop a sense of object permanence, and they come to understand that when their parents are not in sight, it is because they have gone away. But while they understand this, many do not yet understand that their parents will be coming back, and this is the source of the upset feelings. The tantrums, fussing, and crying are the baby’s way of trying to get the parent to stay.
Every child experiences these feelings to some degree, but the exact timeframe can vary. The last three months of the first year are typically the high point of separation anxiety, but it can happen earlier or later, even as late as two years old. And while some children experience it acutely and for long periods, others barely experience it at all and quickly grow out of it.
Children of all ages can feel anxiety upon being separated from a parent. The difference with children of this age is that, at least at first, they are not old enough to understand that separation is only temporary. They do eventually learn that the parent always comes back in the end, but by this time the separation anxiety may be habitual or even a way of manipulating parents and caregivers. Until communication skills are better developed, young children often use such tactics to get what they want.
How to respond
When your child begins to feel separation anxiety, you might actually feel a strange sense of gratification. Your child’s getting upset means that he loves you, is attached to you, and does not want to be separated. For much of the first year, the parent-child bond was largely one-sided, and this is finally concrete evidence that the bond is real and strong.
But of course, no parent likes to see their child upset. And after that initial sense of gratification passes, you will want to find ways to simply avoid or minimize the problem. This can be easier said than done, but there are a few strategies that can help:
And through it all, keep in mind that this phase will pass. Some children experience it worse than others, and children who have never been apart from their parents tend to have it especially bad. But in any case, things will get better as your child learns that the separations are only temporary and becomes more comfortable with your childcare situation.
Lisa Pecos is a wife and well accomplished writer on natural remedies and natural approaches to family health. She’s written numerous articles for Natural Health Journals.com, Parenting Journals.com and Baby Care Journals.com.