Separation anxiety in babies

I’ve had many discussions with mothers concerned about separation anxiety with their babies as there has been little social interaction this year.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing, many babies and toddlers have led a quiet life in the peaceful existence of their home and with the nurturing of one or two parents.

Visits to or from family and friends was either non-existent or very little and social gatherings such as playgroup and mothers’ groups just did not happen.

As the winter cobwebs fall away and Spring brings a new lease on life, our little ones are re-entering the world of socialisation, stimulation and activity.

What does it mean for them?

Parents are carrying around the extra baggage of guilt or worry they inherited at their babies birth, but has been made extra burdensome with COVID-19.

Parents are worried about how their babies will cope with this change in socialisation. Babies and toddlers are also becoming clingy, crying when their parents leave, and showing signs of separation anxiety.

My first thought is, do not over think it.

COVID-19 or not, it is normal for babies and toddlers, particularly between the ages of 12 months to two years, to experience a clinginess to their parents.

This means peeing or showering on your own does not happen. Going out on your own becomes difficult and if you do, the bags of guilt and worry get heavier and come for the ride too.

And it is only natural that this would be a big deal for you - normal behaviour or not.

Firstly, it is all going to be OK.

Your baby or toddler will grow out it sooner rather than later, and you do not need to psychoanalyse any of your parenting skills.

It is part of normal development as they distinguish themselves separate to you.

However, I know these words are of little comfort to you as you have heard it all before. Some advice I would give parents in this situation includes:

  • Ensuring you have some routine time apart at a routine place or with a familiar person such as a grandparent or child carer.
  • At childcare, the same carer could be the one to detach your baby or toddler from your leg or arm.
  • Babies and toddlers understand so much. Explain to them beforehand what is going on. Pack the day bag together, do the same things and give your child to the same carer. Make the break away but don’t linger.
  • If you have time to spend 5-10 minutes playing with your child in their care environment that is great, but then explain it is time for you to go, give a hug and kiss, smile and walk away.
  • Have a cry in the car if you need to. But know that every time you do this you are cementing a habit or routine that can take time to adjust to like any change in routine or habit. Give it time. It will work.
  • A comforter can also be helpful. The same comforter they have for home or sleep can be the comforter they take to their care place. If they don’t have one, start one, even one of the older sibling’s toys that seems special to them, or one of the toys from your own childhood or from a grandparent’s house.
  • A trick besides spending 5-10 minutes playing with them could be to sit in a quiet corner and read a story. This way they can adjust to the more stimulating and noisier environment and the end of the book marks your time to leave.
  • Remember the principles of the Circle of Security – fill up your child’s emotional cup that morning with love, patience and reassurance. Don’t pick the busy mornings to rush out the door as life lesson times. If they are out of sorts knowing they are leaving you for the day or evening, don’t worry if they don’t eat their breakfast or pack their own bag. They will be fine.
  • Lastly, have confidence in yourself and in your child to do things separately. You are giving them the opportunity to experience the warmth, love and play time from others. You are giving them the chance to grow and develop more.

Let go of the guilt and worry and maximise your time apart. Know and feel that you have done all you can - you are teaching independence and resilience.

You are also allowing yourself to reach your full potential as a parent by looking after your own needs whether it be work or play or rest and rejuvenation.

When you have let go of the guilt and worry, you must let go of the anxiety too. Repeat, everything will be okay, over and over.

When a person feels guilty they release adrenaline, their heart rate increases, their blood pressure goes up and their stomach churns as blood is channelled to more important organs to enable a quick protective response, the flight/fright response.

But when this guilt persists the body remains in overdrive and anxiety develops.

The car time is a good opportunity to check in with yourself, take a deep breath and be aware of how you feel.

If it persists, think about talking to someone, calling a friend that would understand, and avoid environments that may exacerbate these feelings such as big shopping centres with their lights and noise. If shopping is on the agenda, you might need a quiet coffee or walk first.

I send you all my love and strength as you navigate this chapter of parenting.

Remember, it will all be OK.

Contributed bySummer Gwynne
Summer Breeze Consultancy
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