Strategies for Dealing with Separation Anxiety

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Time your break carefully

Although the hardest time for you to leave your child is probably in infancy, babies younger than 6 months old can often do fine without you for a night or two (especially if you’re not nursing). That’s because they haven’t yet grasped the concept of object permanence — that you exist even when you’re not with them. But by 7 or 8 months, children have become aware that when you leave, you’re somewhere out there, says Martha Farrell Erickson, PhD, so they’re much more prone to separation anxiety. That anxiety can last well past your child’s first birthday, so if your baby has a bad case, you may want to avoid traveling for a while. You also shouldn’t leave town if your child has just been through a traumatic change, such as weaning or a family move.

Keep things familiar

If possible, have your child stay in his own home with someone he knows well — grandparents, a caregiver. If he has to be away from home, don’t separate him from his siblings, and make sure he has his favorite blankie. Routine is especially important for younger babies, notes Donna Holloran, owner of Babygroup, Inc., a Santa Monica, California, center that helps parents interact with their young children. Since a 4-month-old is too young to comprehend why Mom isn’t with him, the most you can do is keep his daily routine the same.

Tell baby what to expect

Children really need to learn to trust you, so forecasting and then doing what you say you’re going to do is very important, notes Erickson. For kids under 3, a heads-up one or two days before you go is plenty. And don’t skip an explanation because you think your child is too young to understand. Your tone of voice and your attitude send a message to your kids before they understand all the words, Erickson explains.

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