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5 helpful tips to ease separation anxiety

Toddler crying

Separation anxiety is a normal part of emotional development – here’s how to reduce the stress for mom and baby.

Just about every one of us with a baby has experienced the crumpled face, the Velcro arms, and the wail that erupts when you try and leave, whether to run an errand, get some exercise, or go to work.

Separation anxiety is a normal part of development that starts when babies begin to grapple with the concept of object permanence: where things and people exist even when they’re not present. Your little tot will learn, in time, that you do return when you leave, but she is not yet capable of understanding this fully, and this naturally leads to some anxiety. Separation anxiety can start as early as six months, and usually peaks between 10 and 18 months.

Here are 5 ways to lessen the anxiety:

1. Start small “Start practising separations from an early stage, for instance leaving your little one with another familiar person (like your partner or a grandparent). Ensure that you have their attention, say goodbye and give a kiss or wave and leave,” suggests clinical psychologist for Nubabi Claire Toi. “Resist the urge to walk back in and check!” This gently introduces the idea of separation from you.

2. Encourage bonding between your child and his caregiver The best way to help your baby over his upset when you leave is for him to develop a great relationship with the person you are leaving him with, whether it’s a nanny, granny or day mother. He will still protest, but the caregiver should be able to comfort (and distract) him. Facilitate some good experiences with the caregiver in your presence. Let your little guy see you relating warmly to the caregiver yourself, and speak enthusiastically to your child about the caregiver when it’s just the two of you.

3. Develop a goodbye routine After he has developed more of a relationship with the caregiver, practice leaving your child for a short time. Do the same thing each time you leave. For example: Read him a short story, then hug him and tell him you love him and when you’ll be back, then put him in his caregiver’s arms, then say goodbye. Stick to the exact same routine every day; it will help your baby to know exactly what to expect.

4. Help your baby understand object permanence Try a game like peek-a-boo, or hide and seek with a beloved object to help your child learn that what disappears isn’t gone forever but can reappear. Read books to support this theme, such as Are You My Mother by PD Eastman.

5. Create a love book Make a book out of A4 paper, or use a small exercise book, and fill it with pictures of your child with her parents, siblings, grandparents, nanny/ caregiver/babysitters, cousins and special friends. Reading it often will remind her of all the people who love her, and support the idea of ‘out of sight, but not gone forever’.

Leaving your baby, especially the first few times, can be heartbreaking and just as stressful for you. By practising these suggestions, which support baby at this key developmental stage, it will soon get easier for both of you.

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