Separation Anxiety Struggles

Is your little one experiencing separation anxiety when you leave? Struggling to overcome the fear of leaving your baby with their nanny because of how upset they get when you leave? Worried your child is becoming too clingy and not wanting to go to other people?

Here are some tips put together by Jill Campbell (licensed clinical psychologist, parent coach & educator) to assist in these troublesome moments.

Be understanding. This is a normal stage in development.  

You want to let your baby know that you understand and care about how she feels.  “I understand that you don’t like it when mommy leaves, but mommy always comes back.”  Try not to discount your child’s feelings.  For example, with the best of intentions, we may find ourselves saying something like, “Oh, you silly girl, there’s nothing to be upset about,” as a way of trying to make your baby feel better. To your baby, however, there certainly is something to be upset about, and we want to model that her feelings do count. 

Make separation a matter-of-fact experience

When you see your baby getting upset, it is sometimes hard not to get upset yourself.  Although you want to be understanding of your child’s feelings, you also want to model for your baby that separation from time to time is normal, and that you are okay with it.  Let your baby know that you love him, but try to avoid saying things like “I’ll be so sad without you.”  

Be sure to say good-bye when you leave. 

Even though it might feel easier to sneak out of the house when your baby is involved with something else, it is important to let your baby know that you are leaving.  Yes, if you sneak away you may avoid a meltdown in that moment, but you are actually creating more anxiety in the long run because you are inadvertently teaching your child that you can disappear without warning at any time. 

Prepare ahead of time. 

If possible, get ready to leave in advance so that you can spend some time with your baby before you have to go.  Set up an activity that your baby can do with her caregiver once you leave (for example bubbles or puppets). This will give your baby something to focus on right after you go. Give your baby something of yours to “take care of” or “watch for you” while you are gone.  This object will act as a “transitional object” for your child.  

Having a going away and coming back ritual. 

Make a ritual with your words or your gestures when it’s time to leave.  For example, kiss the palm of your child’s hand and then fold their fingers over it so that your kiss is with him while you are away.  Maybe say something like, “I love you up to the moon and back.” Lastly, you can tell your baby about an activity the two of you will do when you return.  “When I get back, we’ll go to the park…read a book…give each other a great big hug, etc.”  When you return, say something like, “See, mommy always comes back.” 

Be her social chairman.

Your baby sizes up strangers by your reaction to them, so if you’re anxious, she’s likely to be too. If you’re worried how she’ll react to somebody, she’ll sense it and mimic you.

Prepare strangers ahead of time.

You know your daughter’s uncomfortable around people she hasn’t met, so, whenever possible, you should alert them about it ahead of time. Also, let them know how she’ll react if they barge into her personal space. Inform significant strangers (for example, grandparents and good friends) not to be too aggressive with her and that they should let you set the stage; eventually, baby will usually go to them. Encourage them to play with one of her favorite things by themselves or bring an unfamiliar toy that will engage her interest — she may warm up to a person who has a toy she wants.

Act as a buffer.

An important strategy is moving gradually from the familiar to the unfamiliar. If your daughter sees someone approaching on the street — and you know him but she doesn’t — let her see you quickly smile and then greet him from a distance. If at all possible, have a cheerful discussion (keep that grin on your face) with him while preserving that distance. In your baby’s cautious mind, if the stranger is OK with you, the stranger is OK with her.

For now, though, the fact that your child trusts you and feels secure in your arms should be taken as a compliment. In time, soothing and reassuring expressions from you, her most trusted caregivers, will sink in. Above all, don’t fear that stranger anxiety means she’s spoiled or too attached, or that she’ll never become independent. These worries are unfounded. Caution around unfamiliar people and a close attachment to her primary caregivers are some of the healthiest traits a growing child can have.

Tips courtesy of Jill Campbell Psy.D. For more information, please visit her site 🎀