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Separation Anxiety: Helping Your Child
Separation anxiety (also called separation protest) usually starts around 9 months of age, peaks near 15 months of age, and starts to fade sometime before the third birthday. The intensity and duration of separation anxiety is affected by your child's temperament and by your personality and how you respond.
Here are some suggestions on how to deal, as well as possible, with these scenes:
- Emotionally prepare yourself before you leave.
If your child gets upset, act confident and stay calm even when you don't feel that way. Remember that separation anxiety is a normal aspect of your child's behavior. In fact, it is a sign that your child has reached a new level of cognitive and emotional development. It is also evidence of your child's healthy attachment to you.
- Set a routine before you leave.
Examples include kissing mommy good-bye at the door, reading a short book, or saying good-bye to a favorite stuffed animal. It's best not to rush off or sneak out without saying good-bye. Babies learn to handle separation better and thereby gain more confidence if they know and are told it will occur.
- Let your child get used to you leaving.
When your child's separation anxiety behavior becomes noticeable, plan ahead for times when you will be away. At first, make a few very short trips, such as going for a 20-minute walk. Gradually work your way up to longer separations.
- Try to schedule departures after naps and eating.
Also, try to stay with your baby as much as possible when your baby is not feeling well. Your baby will handle separations better when not tired, hungry, or sick.
- Build bridges between home and day care.
For example, bring your child's favorite stuffed animal or blanket to day care, if possible. Work with your caregiver to help your child feel less anxious when you leave. A caregiver can decrease your child's distress with loving comfort, offering brief reassurance that you will return, and quickly providing distractions of interest that will take the focus off of your departure.
- Allow your baby to develop independence.
For example, let your child play independently (while being supervised) and let your child gradually fall asleep on their own.
- Play games like peekaboo.
This may help your baby realize that people and things exist even when you can no longer see them. This is a skill called object permanence.
Current as of: September 20, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics
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