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Why, when your child is about one, and most things are getting under control, do you suddenly hit the bizarre and often unprompted stage of separation anxiety? Having been happy to stay with Granny or the childminder for months and months, suddenly when you turn to say goodbye, its as if she's never had all those great, happy mornings with Grandad and it's as if you've never left him before! It's confusing, frustrating and rather unsettling for you both!
Well, firstly, separation anxiety is a perfectly normal part of childhood development. There is nothing we can do to control it...but there are certain steps we can take to keep it under control.
It happens because at around 6 - 7 months, babies learn about permanence. They learn that things are still there even when they can't see them. It's the same with parents, when the little ones can't see Mummy or Daddy they know they're still there, but that they have gone. Because babies have no sense of time, they don't understand that the parents will come back! All they know is that you have disappeared.
You can't necessarily avoid tearful goodbyes or leg hugging as you are trying to leave, but here are a few tips to soften the blow:
- Schedule separation after a nice nap or feed so your child is not feeling hungry or tired which might make them more clingy.
- Try to use only one other carer, so use only one babysitter rather than a pool of different babysitters.
- Practice separation a few hours at a time so baby gets used to it.
- Have a routine when you leave so they know what to expect: try waving from a certain window, give a special kiss and hug or beeping your car horn as you drive away... little things that will signal that you're going, and that you'll be back!
- Encourage the carer to come to your home to look after your child in familar surroundings. Or take a favourite toy, blanket or cup to the new house so there are famliar things around.
- Remain calm and positive... babies can pick up your mood so keep it upbeat and don't run back if they start crying, it will only encourage more tears.
- Make sure you tell your child what's happening. They may not speak, but they may still understand your words.