“When the child experiences these cues and feels that a separation is in the near future they may become clingy and refuse to leave the parents side,” she says.
Five Tips for Dealing with Separation Anxiety
- Prepare: Before leaving your child, make sure his needs are met and he is not hungry or overly tired. “It is easier for children to deal with stressful things when they are feeling good,” Carlson says.
- Practice: While leaving can be difficult if your little one is crying and seems upset, Carlson says parents can practice leaving the child with a caregiver for short periods of time. She says communication is important. “Explain to the child that you will be leaving and that the caregiver will be there to take care of them,” she says. “Then, explain that you will return after a period of time. When you return, it is important to discuss the sequence of events again in simple words.”
- Offer comfort: Babies can find comfort and reassurance if they are given a special object to hold onto while you are away. Carlson recommends their favorite stuffed animal or blanket, or give them something that belongs to you, such as a shirt or pillow.
- Do not prolong goodbyes: Although you might feel that more hugs and words of comfort will help your child, it is better to simply leave and not prolong goodbyes. Carlson says, “When it is time to leave, simply say goodbye and go. A prolonged exit will only make things harder on the child and drag out the inevitable.”
- Never sneak out: While sneaking away before your baby notices and starts crying might seem beneficial, it will confuse your child and he will feel as though you have “disappeared,” which can harm his sense of security. “If the parent has ‘disappeared,’ there is less assurance that the parent will return later,” Carlson adds. If the parent has disappeared without warning, the child might become clingy because of the possibility it happening again.
Separation Anxiety at Night
Carlson says many of the same tips apply to babies who are dealing with separation anxiety at night. She advises parents to practice leaving their children for short periods each week.
“It is important that the idea of the parent returning even though they are out of site for a while is established,” Carlson says. Talk to your child about where you will be after bedtime, and if he cries, remain calm, confident and reassuring.
Carlson stresses the importance of following through on your promises. “You could tell your child that you will be going to your room for 5 minutes and then returning to check on them,” she says. “If you follow through on the promise they are more likely to believe you will be returning after their nap time.”