Separation Anxiety in Babies

by NCA

Attuned parenting for secure attachment

We continue our blog series with Separation Anxiety in Babies. You can read the first blog post here: Exploring Our Attachment Style and Its Influence on How We Parent

Separation Anxiety is a common milestone during early childhood. Typically speaking it develops between the 8 and 12 month period. If your child experiences mild separation anxiety, there is nothing to worry about. Typical symptoms may include fussing, crying, possible tantrums, and occasional nightmares. If symptoms worsen, creating additional distress in baby and parent alike, you may want to seek professional support.

According to the Mayo Clinic there are a few circumstances that will commonly trigger separation anxiety in infants and toddlers:

  • A new child care situation
  • A new sibling
  • A new home
  • Family stress or tension

As mentioned in the previous blog post of this series, our attunement with our child can mediate the degree of separation anxiety that he or she experiences. Ava Parnass, Child Therapist, shares her thoughts with us, on this topic:

“Every child’s behavior has a purpose. They are trying, the only way they know how, to get their social, physical and emotional needs met. They often don’t have the vocabulary, or direct access to their feelings, and lack the ability to express exactly what happened, or why they responded in the manner in which they did. Separation anxiety is an expression of many different feelings and we need to become behavior detectives to figure out exactly what the cause and the purpose may be. Then we can help figure out how to meet our child’s emotional needs and eventually help them learn to meet their own needs (years later).”

Dr. Dan Siegel, known for his contributions regarding Attachment Style, explains that Secure Attachment provides our children with a strong sense of self. This carries over into adulthood, giving our children the necessary tools to enjoy effective relationships with others: a spouse or significant other, their own children, co-workers, family members, and friends. Dr. Siegel explains Secure Attachment in the following way:

“People who formed secure attachments in childhood have secure attachment patterns in adulthood. They have a strong sense of themselves and they desire close associations with others. They basically have a positive view of themselves, their partners and their relationships. Their lives are balanced: they are both secure in their independence and in their close relationships.”

How do you create an environment of Secure Attachment for your baby, in order to limit the degree of separation anxiety during this early stage?

Here are a few tips to help you set up an atmosphere of security for your baby: 

  1. Have a consistent caregiver for your child for (at least) the first 6 months. This can be mom, dad, a grandparent, or a trusted sitter.
  2. Offer lots of affection. Hold your baby, snuggle, sing, read together, go for walks, play, dance, listen to music, and make direct eye contact. Let your baby know that she/he is wanted, valued, and safe.
  3. Keep a routine. Stick to a consistent routine for eating, naps, bed time, bath time, and so on. Consistency breeds a sense of safety and security. Babies need this in order to thrive.
  4. Allow others to spend time with your child. Babies do not need to be smothered. They need to know that mom or dad can leave for a while and that they always come back. Hap Palmer sang a wonderful song about this: My Mommy Comes Back. Sing this song to your little one (it’s easy to memorize). You can modify the words as needed: “My Daddy Comes Back.” Parents need to take breaks from the kids to recharge and relax. Allow yourself to do this, for your child’s sake. Give your child the tools needed to self sooth now and again. This will be a necessary skill later in life, as well.
  5. Make homemade toys and books that you and your baby can use together. There are lots of ideas online. If you are not crafty, buy books that allow you to slide photos inside. You can purchase cheap photo albums and design your own photo books. Slip a photo of Mom into the right side page and write “Mommy” on paper – put the paper into the left slot. Make your own book of family members and friends and read this daily with your baby. Talk about the facial expressions: “Mommy is so happy!” or “Daddy looks surprised!” These simple activities build strong brain connections for Secure Attachment.

You might also have your own wonderful ideas that work for you and your baby. Although separation anxiety is normal for happy and healthy children, you can limit the degree by establishing a “Secure Attachment” home.

Our next blog article will focus on creating an atmosphere of Secure Attachment in toddlers and young children.