Separation Anxiety

March 3, 2021
Separation Anxiety

This week’s tip comes from our partners at Zero to Three!

Separation anxiety is an expected part of early childhood development, starting around 7-9 months of age. Here’s how to help parents who are struggling with difficult goodbyes:

Your baby has gotten used to you as “their” person. You respond when they cry, offer a bottle or a diaper change, and soothe them back to sleep. Up until now, they have been okay with other people, too. Your mom. Your partner. Their babysitter.

This changes around 7 to 9 months. Your baby may sob and cling to you when you leave the house or even when you disappear into another room. What’s going on?

As your baby’s brain grows, they learn more about how the world works. At 7 to 9 months, they begin to understand that when you leave, you’re going somewhere else. Somewhere they can’t follow.

Here’s how to make goodbyes easier.

1. Morning Routine – Have a routine for leaving the house to go to child care. You might make up a silly song to sing as you are on your way. “Off we go to Jackie’s school, Jackie’s school, Jackie’s school. Off we go to Jackie’s school, early in the morning!”

2. A Good Goodbye – Create a goodbye ritual – something you do every day as you’re leaving. You might give your baby a kiss goodbye and a snuggle before handing them to their caregiver as you wave goodbye and smile.

3. A Reminder of You – Give your child’s early educator something to remind your baby you’ll be back – like a photo of your family together or a t-shirt you’ve worn (with your scent).

4. No Big Scenes – Leave without making a big deal or getting upset yourself. Your child’s teachers know how to help them with their big feelings.

5. No Sneaking Away – Don’t leave without saying goodbye. Sneaking away makes a child worry that you might leave at any time (making their separation anxiety worse). They also might not trust in your return.

Remember that separation anxiety won’t last forever. With your help, your baby will learn how to cope with separations when you’re away. With experience, your baby will learn that you do come back, every time. And they will learn to keep you in mind even when you’re not there, just as you keep them in mind too.

Download the handout for parents >

Learn more from Zero to Three >