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How Do I Deal With Separation Anxiety?

Why does my baby cry whenever someone else holds him? When will this end?

Though it may be a relief for you when someone else wants to hold baby or watch him for a couple of hours, for your baby, the prospect is terrifying. Welcome to separation anxiety, a normal part of development. According to clinical psychologist Shoshana Bennett, PhD, separation anxiety is the fear of the primary caretaker leaving or being out of sight, so it’s not exactly the same thing as stranger anxiety.

Friends and family shouldn’t take it personally and wonder, “Why doesn’t the baby like me?” The thing for everyone to remember is that he is just going through a phase and it’ll pass. (Today he’s nervous about being without you. Come grade school, he’ll be nervous being seen with you.) The height of separation anxiety is eight to 18 months, but it can rear its head as early as six or seven months.

So how do you deal, especially if you have to go back to work? Start by reminding yourself that separation anxiety and stranger anxiety are important stages of bonding (not easy for anybody, but necessary for normal development).  Have the caretaker come visit once or twice before you actually leave.  Have some friendly physical contact and happy conversation with the caretaker.  This will show baby you trust the person and that he should feel comfortable too. The caretaker should slowly start interacting with the baby at a distance while he is in your arms or on your lap.  At the next visit, have the caretaker – no longer a stranger - arrive 30 minutes before your departure.

Try some trial runs. First, leave the house for an hour and gradually increase how long you’re away so baby gets used to it in increments. Always say good-bye when you leave. Don’t prolong your gestures or show that it’s just as hard for you. Make it short, sweet, and to the point: “Bye honey, I’ll see you in a couple of hours.” All of these steps will help build baby’s confidence.

As tempting and convenient as it may be to sneak out the back door while baby isn’t looking, in the long run, it’ll just increase baby’s anxiety if he doesn’t know where you went or when you’ll be back.

Plus, more from The Bump:

Nighttime Separation Anxiety

How to Find a Good Nanny

Choosing a Daycare