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Easing Separation Anxiety

Updated: Jan 1, 2023

Separation Anxiety can peak around 6-9 months of age, when your baby has an awareness that you are two separate bodies. It then reaches its final peak around 14-18 months.

According to The Wonder Weeks, a book by Dutch researchers, psychologists Frans Plooij and Hetty van der Rijt, at twenty-six weeks babies start to perceive distance. This means that as you walk away, your baby is now more aware of the distance that separates you. They will yell out to you because of the increasing distance and it is confusing and a bit scary.

When this starts to happen, it is actually an exciting indication at you and your baby are well connected. You are their rock and the most important person in their whole world, so this is why they likely get upset as you move out of sight or when they are with someone else. Your baby doesn't quite understand that when you disappear that you will come back or that you even still exist - this is called object permanence.

This can be quite a scary and confusing time for babies and explains why they often start to become clingy and wake more frequently, for reassurance that you are still there. Until around the age of two, most babies see themselves as an extension of mum, this is often why they prefer mum or the primary caregiver.

Some tips for trying to ease separation anxiety:

🌟Increase your daytime nurturing by giving your baby more hugs and cuddles.

🌟Follow a peaceful, consistent routine in the hour before bedtime

🌟Spend 20 minutes playing with him before bedtime routine starts. No tv, no phone just play on the floor and connect.

🌟Play lots of peek-a-boo games.

🌟Leave your baby to play while you leave the room for short burst. Keep talking and calling out to them so they knows you’re still around. Tell them “I‘ll be right back” “mums right here”.

🌟Have some skin to skin time before bed. Have a bath/shower, sit with a singlet on and read a book.

🌟Keep a large photo of Mum, Dad and/or other important people in your baby's life, near their bed.

🌟When your baby is awake, don't sneak away when they're not looking. Always say good-bye or good night on your way out.

🌟If you have time, do the whole bedtime routine and settling with your partner for a couple of days. Once your baby sees that mum and dad are there the whole time, they will be more likely to settle for either of you.

🌟Show confidence and joy when you leave your baby, not insecurity or fear. Respond quickly to your baby's nighttime calls or cries, even it it's just to say, "I'm here and everything is OK".

🌟Introduce a comforter, beginning for sleep time, and to then be used whenever they are separate from you.

Tips for the non-primary caregiver:

🌟Shared baths

🌟Shared breakfasts (especially to give mum/primary caregiver a break)

🌟Rough and Tumble Play

🌟An evening walk together

🌟Weekend trips to the park, library, cafe or a friend's house

🌟After dinner play or story time.

Ways to reduce the impact of separation anxiety:

🌟Consider postponing moving your baby to their own sleep space if they are experiencing separation anxiety.

🌟Consider your return to work. It is very common for primary caregivers to return to work when their baby is between six and twelve months. If possible, consider timing your return to work so that your child is settled in childcare and has formed a close bond with their caregiver. Providing lots of time for transition and orientation.

🌟Try to keep the rest of your life as consistent as possible during this difficult phase. It is not the best time to go on holiday or start trial sessions at gyms or move house.

🌟Be kind on yourself while your baby is experiencing separation anxiety. You can't speed your baby through this time, nor can you stop them feeling these normal feelings but you can change how you respond. To be able to respond with compassion, you must ensure your cup is full first.

🌟Keep reminding yourself that this will pass. One day you will look back on these days when your baby needed you so much, fondly and smile.

The easiest way to survive this period is with help from friends and family. Call on your village for support, even if it's just to hold the baby while you have a shower, bring your meals, get someone to do your washing.

📸 Emma Barton

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