Infant Separation Anxiety

QUESTION: If my child has infant separation anxiety, does that mean that he or she will have an ongoing problem with separation anxiety?

ANSWER:

Infant separation anxiety is a common occurrence for many small children. Infants who are not easily comforted; have difficulty establishing sleep patterns; or struggle with changes in routine; may be at risk for ongoing problems with separation anxiety. Although, there are no conclusive studies that link anxiety disorder in older children, it is believed that temperament may play a part in determining the outcome of infant separation anxiety.

Infants typically begin to feel the fear of separation between eight and nine months of age. They may manifest anxiety around strangers and in new situations. Babies who have been sleeping through the night for several months may suddenly begin waking at night and feeling the fear of parental separation. Infant separation anxiety tends to peak in the toddler stage, somewhere between fourteen and eighteen months. This is a time in your child's life when he or she is beginning to explore the world and learn early steps of independence, like walking. A toddler may happily walk a few feet away from his parents only to begin to cry upon the realization that mom or dad are no longer visible.

Parents can play an important role in helping with infant separation anxiety. If you have an infant who is struggling with separation anxiety, here are some practical suggestions that will help diminish the possibility of ongoing anxiety as your child grows older.
  • Although parents should spend significant amounts of time with infants in order for healthy bonding to occur, begin making it a point to leave your baby for brief periods, once he or she is about six months of age.
  • Begin by choosing a care giver that is a familiar person to your infant and plan for brief interludes of no more than a half an hour, initially.
  • Give your infant a hug and kiss; say "goodbye" calmly, and assure your child that you will return.
  • Offer extra reassurance to a waking infant who seems fearful by spending a few extra minutes to hold and offer comfort. Then calmly place the child back into the crib and say "goodnight."
Even infants can sense when a parent or caregiver is anxious about leaving them. Parents are encouraged to be both patient and perseverant in helping their children work through infant separation anxiety.

Learn More About Separation Anxiety!

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