Taking the Anxiety out of Separation

Sep 13, 2019

Saying goodbye to a 10 month old can be trickier than landing a plane in a hurricane, and twice as nerve-wracking! No matter how chill a kiddo is as an infant, sometime around 4-7 months old they develop object permanence, and that is usually a precursor to a phase of fretting over goodbyes that can last waaaaay longer than we want it to. AND, big changes, overwhelming moments, or family stressors can make separation anxiety crop up in older kids and even adults, so we're not out of the woods yet even if our kids are older!

Knowing that separation anxiety is practically universal does nothing to eliminate the mix of emotions we feel when it's our own kid:

  • "I gotta admit, it feels pretty good to be so loved and wanted by someone."

  • "OMG I can't keep up with the constant need for attention from me and only me!"

  • "I am so selfish to leave my child when it's obviously breaking their heart!"

Well, it might be universal, but that doesn't mean you have to white knuckle it through separation anxiety. Let's figure out how to get on top of it before it gets on top of you! If you've followed me for long enough, you already know my practice rests on work in 3 foundational areas:

  • Mindset - aka get our heads on straight!

  • Management - run our family and home in a way that makes life livable!

  • Momming - responses to kids that promote great behavior and healthy growth

These 3 areas fit with separation anxiety perfectly.


Mindset: I'm not anxious, you're anxious!

So much of our kids' mood is a reflection of our own emotions. If we're worried about our child freaking out or feeling upset with ourselves for leaving them, those emotions most certainly impact our actions and attitudes and can only make things worse for both of us! Instead, try to remember what their anxiety really means:

  • They're going through a normal stage of development

  • Good job mom! You've established a strong healthy attachment with your child!

  • Your baby has object permanence and is ready to learn some new skills: Saying goodbye, trusting in you even more (by seeing you leave and come back over and over), and being independent.

  • Every new lesson comes from a resistance phase; you're helping your child go through the challenge of learning something new and that comes with some tears sometimes (and not just for babies!)

Management: Set yourself up for success.

We can use what we know about separation anxiety to create an environment that works in our favor. Of course it's never possible to eliminate every pitfall, but whenever possible, these things will minimize your tearful goodbyes:

  • Introduce/establish new care providers before 8 months

  • Minimize changes/new care between 8 months - 1.5 years

  • Time goodbyes for after naps and mealtimes (kids have a harder time when they're tired or hungry).

  • Build a little extra time into your schedule at first so you won't feel rushed or stressed.

Momming: Goodbye is Goodbye!

Now that we have our heads on straight and have set ourselves up for success, it's easy to add the parenting/discipline element into the equation, and do it effectively.

  • Practice makes perfect (or less imperfect anyway): Take little breaks from each other when the stakes are low and you can dip your toe in the water slowly. For example, invite whomever you plan to leave your child with over in advance so they can be together while you're still around. This also works for new environments like daycare centers.

  • Consistency is Key: Create a goodbye routine that includes a loving, firm goodbye. Stay calm and confident. Reassure them that you'll be back — and explain when you'll return using easy concepts (such as after lunch). Give your full attention when you say goodbye, and when you say you're leaving, mean it; coming back will only make things worse.

  • Mean What You Say, Say What You Mean. Make sure you return when you promised. This is how your child will become confident that they can make it through the time apart.

Even though this stuff happens to all of us, I can't tell you how many moms I've talked through their first preschool drop-off, babysitter, or gym daycare situation. You're so normal if this is breaking your heart, and you're not alone. Reach out anytime and let's get through it together! You got this, mama!