separation anxiety

Separation anxiety or separation fear is the phase of intense fear that infants and toddlers experience as part of the normal development of the understanding that parents can be trusted to return to them. When babies first develop object permanence, they become aware of the concept of "Mother is not here" for the first time. This can frighten the child, who often cries when mother leaves the room, crawls after her, or refuses to go to another person. See stranger anxiety.

The ultimate cure for separation anxiety is simply the fact that mother always returns, and baby learns this by experience. Remember that object permanence is a feature of visual memory. You may find it less stressful for the younger infant who cries and crawls after you if you continue a little auditory reassurance when you first leave the room. That is, talk, hum or sing while you are in the room and then continue to do so softly after you have left the room. Pop your head back in every few minutes to help.

Sometimes I am asked about an older toddler (18-24 months or older) who goes through this phase. Why so late, I haven't a clue, and I can't imagine that it really matters anyway how these little things get going. What I counsel to get out of this is the following:

Help the child learn to separate. Play little games of hide-and-seek. At first, stand or sit just outside the room around the corner of the doorway so the child knows you are very close. Then you call for the child - pretend you miss him. Do this, and he will accept being temporarily out of direct sight of you. Then start going a little farther down the hall. Let him find you, and you find him. Maybe sit in the room next door to where he is playing. The idea is to gradually separate more and more. You'll teach him very quickly to separate again and to not be so afraid. The key is to remember that at no time do you want him to be afraid. Start very slowly at first, and then separate more and more as you get a feel for what he can tolerate comfortably.

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