Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is the bit when you're going to work and your baby or toddler locks on to your coat with soft little fingernails and surprisingly strong leg muscles - and then screams inconsolably as you attempt to leave.

separation anxiety toddler mother

But try not to let it get to you. Separation anxiety is an entirely normal part of child development and would happen whether or not you went back to work.

"Separation anxiety is the point when a child starts to realise s/he is a different person from mum (or whoever has been the main carer) and gets freaked out when you leave the room etc."

A lot of parents report the peak time for onset of separation anxiety at about eight or nine months. For some, the answer is to ensure their baby is well-settled with alternative care before the onset period. Or to wait until significantly after that period, if this is a realistic possibility.

"Separation anxiety starts to diminish from about 18 months (this does vary a bit from child to child, like most other areas of development). It's believed they become distressed when their carer is out of their sight because they cannot understand that the situation is temporary and believe they've been abandoned. Therefore, they are distressed for an understandable reason from their point of view."

Other parents find that even when the child is settled with an alternative carer at under six months, there can still be a period of separation anxiety. Although it may be less distressing if baby is already used to their new carer / environment.

Some children never seem to show any particular signs of separation anxiety. Apart from making you feel like maternal mincemeat, this is a good thing and no reflection on how much your baby loves you. Honest.

"I do sometimes feel a bit paranoid that while other babies are flinging themselves into the pits of despair, mine is happily waving and kissing, or just running off to play!"

Different children develop separation anxiety to different degrees and at different stages. Try not to be too melodramatic yourself. Or at least save the sobbing for your bath. Your anxiety will only increase your baby's.

"You can help your baby to feel secure by gently giving them more space from you, and letting them find out they are OK with other people, or with you at more of a distance. It is more that you are 'weaning' the baby from their fear that they can't be without you, than 'weaning' them from you."

Peekaboo games can apparently work to show that you don't actually disappear permanently when not in view.

"I found that not taking a child from the person they are crying at makes them realise that there is nothing to fear. I would just say 'you're fine', 'it's OK' and smile. Try to do it with people who are confident handling babies though, not someone who can't deal with it and gets stressed."

Try not to go from 'all mummy' to 'all childcare' in one fell swoop. If your baby is going to a childminder, see if the childminder will agree to visit you at home - this can help to make her familiar to baby in a known environment. Similarly, if your new nanny can come for some shorter trial periods, this may ease the transition.

Get some perspective and bolstering on the Mumsnet Talk boards.

Back to listing