How To Handle Infant Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety can start in children as young as 8 months old.  If you start to notice signs of this don’t be worried this is all a normal stage of their emotional development.  Separation anxiety starts around this time because at this moment in your child’s life they are starting to distinguish between their caregivers and family members.  As well as they are starting to distinguish object permanence, knowing who stays with them always. 

With this when they see you leave a room they start to fear that you are gone forever.  They don’t understand that you are alive somewhere else.  This can cause trouble dropping your infant off at daycare, when you leave your infant with a babysitter, or even at night if they wake up and you aren’t near them anymore.  



Signs of separation anxiety may differ from baby to baby as well will intensity.  You may notice your child becoming extremely clingy when you get to a babysitter, or a family member comes over to babysit.  Your child may cry as you leave the room, they could awaken during the night crying and could even not fall back to sleep without a parent nearby.  It can all be very dramatic with the big giant tears and cries. 

The good thing is your child will eventually grow out of this.  But sadly there are other stages in their lives that separation anxiety can come back, when they are toddlers and around 4 years of age.  Just like the intensity of signs can differ from child to child so can duration.  Some children may grow out of this rather quickly, while others may suffer from it for months.  Remember your baby doesn’t understand time so when you say be back in a minute they have no idea how long that really means.  When you leave they think you are gone forever.  

Separation anxiety can start on its own with no warning.  It may start to pop up if you are transitioning your child to daycare or to be kept with another caregiver than yourself.  It can cause disruptions to nap times and sleep as well as regular routine things or even special night out plans.  Though it can be trying and exhausting for both parent and baby just know that it is a temporary situation that will soon pass. 


Tips To Help You And Baby

If you are a stay at home parent you may want to start practicing leaving your child.  This can start in short amounts of time of just having a spouse watch the baby as you go and take a quick shower.  Announce when you leave the room and then announce when you are back so your baby sees that you left but returned back to them.  You can also practice with leaving the baby with grandma or another family member to run some errands.  The goal is to get your baby comfortable with all caregivers and not dependent on just you.  

Don’t try and sneak away.  This can cause your baby’s fear of you disappearing and never coming back worse.  Make sure you leave the room while they are still awake so they see you leave and don’t just wake up with you suddenly gone.  You can say a quick goodbye or goodnight and then leave the room.  This also goes into another tip of keeping your goodbyes short and sweet.  Don’t drag them out.  Have a nice goodbye routine and stick to it.  

Just because your child starts going through this separation anxiety, stick to your routine.  Don’t try to start changing things now.  They need consistency so they feel safe and secure in their environment.  This helps them know that things won’t change just because they make a fuss about something.  Have a bedtime routine that you do nightly and try and stick to it as best you can.  

This can be a hard time for everyone, parents and baby.  When soothing your child, or leaving your child try to hold back your emotions.  At least until your child can no longer see you.  If they feel you being sad or tense they will feed off of that emotion and it will make them feel even more afraid.  

At night if your child wakes up go in pat them on the back, reassure them they are ok and then quietly leave again.  Try not to form bad habits that will disrupt sleep in the future.  Do what is best for your family though, talk through with your spouse or any night time caregivers so that everyone is on the same page with what the plan is.  Whether that is waiting for a bit before going in to help soothe the baby, or even going in for a quick cuddle and a rock before leaving them to fall back to sleep. 

Don’t do things though that could become bad habits for the baby.  Feeding, rocking, or talking to your baby can disrupt the sleep in the future if you get them used to it.  Another thing that could be helpful during naps or night sleeps is to leave the door open to the nursery.  This can be helpful if the baby can hear your voice during the day to stay asleep during naps longer because they know you are still near.  As well as at night, if they wake up they aren’t just shut alone in their room.  Try not to sleep next to their bed on the floor, this will all pass even if it makes for some rough nights for a short period of time. 



Separation anxiety is a normal emotional development your child will go through in certain stages of their life.  It can be short lived or be drawn out depending on your child.  Keep calm, remember it is all part of their growing up process.  Practice makes perfect, start practicing leaving your little one while keeping your own emotions in check.  Remember most all babies go through this at one stage or another.  


Remember your baby doesn’t understand time so when you say be back in a minute they have no idea how long that really means.  When you leave they think you are gone forever.


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