Has your 6-9-month-old baby started crying every time you leave the room? Good news! This means he has developed an attachment and trust in you. He has also developed a better understanding of object permanence, the understanding that an object continues to exist even if it cannot be seen.1 So when he cries, he is telling you that he knows you are still around when you leave the room and he would much rather have you in there with him.
Young babies believe that things disappear when they can’t be seen, but now your baby understands that this isn’t the case.2 But you may be wondering, if he knows that you still exist, why does he get so anxious when you leave? That’s because he doesn’t know where or why you’ve gone, or when you will come back and he cries to try to keep you from leaving.1
While it can be emotionally and physically exhausting to see your baby so upset, signs of separation anxiety also mean that he is beginning to understand that he is a separate person. This is an important step to developing his self-concept and learning that when you are not around, he must learn how to meet his own needs, an important step towards learning independence.
How can I help my baby with his separation anxiety?
- Play Peek-a-Boo. This game reinforces the understanding of object permanence and the idea that when you leave you always come back.
- Learn his routine and plan to leave when you aren’t as needed. Leaving too close to feeding or sleeping times can cause more stress. Try to leave only after all his immediate needs have been met.
- Speak calmly and directly to him when he is upset. Make eye contact and soothe him with reassuring words and gentle caresses. Tell him that you need to leave, but that you will be back.3
- Give him a security blanket or favorite doll. A familiar object can provide comfort and help him feel safe and secure in an unfamiliar situation.4
- Stay calm and do not linger when leaving. Say a kind goodbye, give him a hug and kiss, and then leave calmly. Lingering, constantly repeating that there is nothing to worry about, or acting concerned will only confirm his fears.5
1 Pendley, J. S. (2012). Separation Anxiety. KidsHealth. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/sep_anxiety.html.
2 Baillargeon, R. & DeVos, J. (1991). Object permanence in young infants: further evidence. Child Development 62(6), 1227–46. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/infantlab/articles/baillargeon_devos1991.pdf.
3 Maryland State Department of Education (2010). Healthy Beginnings: Supporting Development and Learning from Birth through Three Years of Age.
4 Delaware Department of Education (2010). Delaware Early Learning Foundations: Infant/Toddler. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from http://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dms/epqc/birth3/files/deinfant_0211.pdf.
5 Ben-Joseph, E. P. (2013). Questions and Answers: How Can I Help My Toddler with Separation Anxiety. KidsHealth.