Separation Anxiety in Babies

Separation anxiety usually occurs in older infants when they feel afraid that their parents are leaving them.

  • Extreme panic and crying when the mother or father leaves the room is the usual sign of separation anxiety in babies.
  • It may appear in infants older than 8 months and is usually strongest in the period between 10 months to one and a half years of age.
  • Separation anxiety may eventually resolve by itself as the child grows older and realizes that parents always come back after they leave.
  • Most two year olds may have overcome separation anxiety.

Infants may display separation anxiety when one of their parents disappears for the briefest of periods. They show their fear of being left alone, by crying. It is common in infants older than 8 months, and is considered normal in children up to two years of age. The intensity of separation anxiety may differ from child to child, and the duration also differs. It is found to be dependent on the relationship between the parents and the child. Children with strong, stable, emotional attachment to parents often overcome separation anxiety much earlier than those who have a less stable relationship.

Infants usually begin to recognize the special status of their parents by the time they are 8 months old. Younger infants may readily accept substitute care givers, but once they realize their special relationship to their parents, they may become more attached to them, and may show a certain amount of reluctance towards others. Separation anxiety in babies originates from this new realization, and the disappearance of one of the parents may trigger severe stress and anxiety in them. Their memory being still very short and immature, they may not be able to associate their parents’ disappearance with past experiences of their coming back. The children may gradually overcome their anxiety as their memory becomes mature, and their sense of time improves. They can now visualize their parents in their absence, and remember the instances in the past when they invariably come back.

When a child displays separation anxiety, the parents need not limit the occasions which require separation in response to the child’s reaction. Doing so may actually interfere with the child’s normal development. When the parents leave the room, the child may protest and cry, but they can call out to the child from another room of the house, instead of rushing back in to pacify the child. This will help the child realize that the parents are around even when they are not present in the room. If the parents gradually increase the amount of time they spend away from the child’s presence may help the child accept the separation better. It may help prepare the child for day-long separation, if the parents are planning to work away from home.

If the child has to be left in a day care, parents should leave without making a fuss after they drop the child off, even if the child is crying. Prolonging the process of separation can only make it more difficult for the child as well as the parents. The care givers should be encouraged to distract the child with a game or a toy as soon as the child is brought into the center, instead of making an event of hugs and goodbyes. The parents should never stay longer than necessary as a response to the child’s crying. When the child is tired or hungry, separation anxiety tend to be worse. Ensuring that the child is rested and well-fed before the parents leave may help reduce separation anxiety.

Children who display separation anxiety between 8 months and 2 years of age do not suffer any long-term harm, as it is part of their normal development. However, if it persists beyond 2 years, it may be a cause concern, especially if it interferes significantly with the normal development of the child. Sudden changes in life may trigger anxiety even in children who have overcome separation anxiety. Starting school can be an extremely stressful change of routine to children, but most of them rapidly adjust to the changes. Excessive separation anxiety in a few children may prevent them from interacting normally with other children in the school and taking part in activities. Such a situation is considered abnormal, and the child may need medical intervention to overcome the separation anxiety.

Watch This Video about Separation Anxiety in Infants

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Yasser Elnahas

MD, PHD, Professor Of CardioVascular Surgery
Dr. Yasser Elnahas, Is an associate Professor of Cardiovascular Surgery. Dr. Elnahas was trained as a fellow At Texas Heart Institute And Mayo Clinic Foundation.Dr. Elnahas is dedicated to educating the general public about different disease conditions and simplifying the medical knowledge in an easy to understand terminology.

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