From around 6 months, your baby will start to learn that things do still exist when they are not seen. As she develops this ‘object permanence’, she may start to become insecure when she can’t see you. This is because she is still uncertain if you will return when you leave. We call this separation anxiety. It is completely normal and is an important emotional milestone but one that can cause your little one to be very unsettled.
It typically peaks at around 7 to 10 months of age and then resolves as your little one realises that you do return after separations. In the toddler years, little ones may also battle with separation anxiety as they become more aware of the world around them and suddenly it can feel like a scary place to navigate. Some little ones are more affected than others by anxiety with separation, especially those who have sensitive sensory profiles or are slow to warm up to novel experiences.
Occupational Therapist Cornelia Liebentritt, offers 5 ways to be prepared-ish for this stage and to help your little one with separation anxiety:
- Play games that include little moments of separation in a fun way, such as peek-a-boo (from 5 months) and hide and seek (once your baby is crawling and can find you)
- Always say good bye when you leave your baby/toddler, even for a short time - don't just sneak out when your toddler is not looking
- Create a quick goodbye ritual and keep it short and sweet e.g. blow a kiss, catch it and put it in your 'pocket'
- Practice: leave the room your baby is in, say bye and re-enter. Go further and further and stay away longer and longer until your little one can stay with a caregiver for short periods of time
- Make a big celebration of the "hello" to help cement the idea of you going away but returning
While separation anxiety if not fun for any one, it is a normal stage of development. Try these tips to help your little one settle quicker. For more information on preparing your baby for separation, read chapter 6 in Baby Sense (Faure & Richardson)
Megan Faure (OTR) www.megfaure.com
Meg is an Occupational Therapist with a special interest in babies and toddlers - specifically irritable infants; sleep problems, emotional engagement difficulties and fussy feeding. Meg is the co-author of Baby Sense and the Sense-series books. Her clinical practise is in Cape Town and she consults and speaks internationally too.