Peeling your baby’s arms from around your neck? Check. Watching tears roll down their little face as they reach for you? Check. Hearing their cries slowly fade as you make a quick exit, fighting to hold your own tears back? Check, check, check.
It’s so distressing to see your child suffer when you leave them at daycare or put them down to sleep at night. And it can be super-stressful for whoever you’re leaving them with too, particularly if it’s their other parent – and they only want their favorite: Mommy.
No matter how confident you feel about who’s looking after your baby, dealing with separation anxiety can be difficult at first. So, how do you help settle your little one as easily as possible when they’re worried about not being with you? Here are some steps to soothe your baby when they’re separated from you.
What Is Separation Anxiety?
First things first: baby and toddler separation anxiety is normal! Separation anxiety happens when your baby starts to understand the difference between safe and familiar people and places, and things that are new and different.
For most little ones, it starts from between six and twelve months and can last up until they’re three years old. It can also affect older children, particularly during times of transition, such as moving house, starting school, returning to school after vacation or changes in routine.
Separation anxiety manifests as clinginess when you’re around, and crying or short tantrums when you leave the room.
This looks like a few minutes of tears, and generally goes away after your baby has had a few weeks to adjust to the new routine.
It may also appear when you collect them from daycare or return home, too. They haven’t been unhappy without you, but daycare is hard work and they’re tired. It’s overwhelmingly emotional for them to see you again and they may need to be picked up and cuddled.
Why Do Babies Experience Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety can seem scary at first. And you may even be tempted to prevent it from happening at all.
However, it’s an important developmental stage for babies during their first year. It shows that your baby is securely attached to you and recognizes that you represent safety and protection.
In fact, there’s more reason to worry when little ones don’t show any concern when they’re separated from loved ones.
Why Does My Baby Only Want Mommy?
Insisting on a favorite parent may be a way for your baby to control a strange, unfamiliar world. They’re working out who they are, and what and whom they like. It makes them feel good to have some power and control over their lives.
Again, it’s healthy. Your little one is showing that they feel secure enough to explore their relationships and push boundaries. They may swap their allegiance from parent to parent over the months and years, prefer different parents for different activities or favor one parent when they get hurt or sick for reassurance and security.
How To Deal With Separation Anxiety: Baby Only Wants Mom
Give Them Extra Support
Give your baby attention, snuggles and love. While you’re away, leave your baby something to hold for the day, like your scarf or a special toy that means something to both of you. We love the Sophie La Giraffe Cherie Comforter – the perfect companion to entrust your baby with throughout the day.
Or give them something ‘important’ to look after, like a special pen. This helps them stay connected to you.
Don’t Take It Personally
If you’re the rejected parent, don’t feel hurt! See it as a compliment. Your child is so secure in their attachment to you that they feel comfortable with saying no to you. They know instinctively that you love them unconditionally.
Get Some Space
Trust that your baby will be fine without you. Even if they insist on you, being left with their other loving parent really isn’t the end of the world. They’ll no doubt make a fuss for a few minutes, then be right as rain.
Meanwhile, you can have a well-deserved break. Take a walk, go out for a coffee, meet a friend – even just five minutes taking a few deep breaths outside in the yard.
Strengthen The Bond With The Other Parent
Even if your baby wants to only be with Mom, keep the bond going between your child and the other parent or carer.
You could try going for a walk together. Make it into an adventure by taking them in an exciting baby carrier, like the Thule Sapling Child Carrier, which has shade and extra storage. Or play a special game they don’t play with Mommy.
What Do I Do About Baby Separation Anxiety At Night?
You no doubt have the bedtime routine down pat. Warm bath, low lighting, soothing story. But suddenly, out of nowhere, the wailing starts. Like separation anxiety during the day, separation anxiety and baby sleep go hand in hand.
Baby separation anxiety at night is basically fear of being alone at night away from parents. It’s a sign of secure attachment. But if you know your baby’s fine (dry diaper, haven’t hurt themselves, perfectly safe crib), it may be in their best interest to leave them to self-soothe.
When your baby cries, you immediately come to their rescue and acknowledge how much they need you. During the day, this is fine, but at night it can cause problems. At bedtime, you’re essentially rewarding this behavior, causing your baby to repeat it next time. This can lead to sleep deprivation for you.
Every family is different. If your instinct is to immediately go in and comfort your baby at night, do what feels right for you.
Never feel that you should leave your baby to self-soothe.
If, however, you’re showing signs of sleep deprivation, you have other children you need to settle and tend to or you’re returning to or at work, you may have no other choice but to do some gentle sleep training.
If you want to try teaching your baby to sleep by themselves, you can always use technology to help alleviate any fears. Use a monitor for peace of mind. We like the Owlet Dream Duo, which arms you with the best tools so that you can better understand your baby’s sleep – and be there to help them when they need assistance sleeping.
How Do I Deal With Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety is part of life. It’s an enriching experience for your child to be regularly left with trusted caregivers other than you and your partner. This could be at daycare or with grandparents, relatives, friends, babysitters and nannies. It helps develop relationships and social skills and is good practice for when they start school. Here are some tips to make the process easier for everyone involved.
Prepare In Advance
If your baby’s off to daycare, walk or drive past the building and chat about how much fun it will be and the friends they’re going to make. If they’re going to be staying with Grandma, talk about how the day will go, what they’ll do and where they’ll go.
Give Them A Favorite Toy
Allow them to take a small toy or object that reminds them of home in the car on the way to daycare. They can keep it in their bag or pocket and take it out when they miss you.
Say A Quick Goodbye
Don’t prolong your goodbyes. Give your baby a kiss, tell them you’ll be along later to pick them up, say ‘I’m going now’ and swiftly leave. It will be clear what’s going on and you’ve explained that you’ll return.
Don’t tip-toe out (they may think you’re never coming back if they haven’t seen you leave), don’t pay attention to tantrums and don’t feel tempted to nip back in to check they’re OK. It’ll be helpful for your baby if the same caregiver is there to support them each time you go.
How Do I Deal With Toddler Separation Anxiety?
Separation anxiety often gets worse as a child’s language skills improve. This is hard to deal with but your toddler will benefit from learning to master the situation on their own, rather than you always riding to the rescue.
You can do this by having a conversation with them, once they’ve calmed down. Start by validating their feelings by letting them know that you understand why being apart from you makes them feel scared. Next encourage them to practice being brave and try an activity on their own, then reward them for it. This strategy takes time and patience but is more effective in the long run.
Separation anxiety can be tough on your baby or toddler and just as tough on you. However, there is a silver lining! Like everything with your child, it’s a phase and it will pass.