It took close to two hours, but you did it. You finally got the baby washed, dressed, fed, and yourself all done up and ready to hit the town for date night. The babysitter has arrived and you put the baby down to play. But before you can even get one step towards the door, baby is screaming, crying and whipping himself into a frenzy. Baby separation anxiety strikes again.
Baby separation anxiety wreaks havoc on a parent’s nerves, causing concern over the sitter’s ability to handle the situation, worry, and guilt for even thinking about leaving baby in the first place.
If you’re a parent dealing with a baby who suffers from separation anxiety, don’t despair! Baby separation anxiety is a normal occurrence in most babies between the ages of 6 months to 12 months, but can sometimes last through the first few years of their life. Not only is baby separation anxiety temporary, there are ways you can work with your sitter to help ease your baby’s separation anxiety during this time.
Babies feel separation anxiety as early as 6 months because that is the age when they begin to realize that their mothers and fathers are separate from them and can, in fact, leave them. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” could not be truer than with babies and their parents. Much like puppies, babies have no perception of time, and to them being separated from Mommy or Daddy for 5 minutes feels like a separation of 5 days.
Thankfully, there are ways to ease baby’s separation anxiety with a bit of patience, planning, and good communication. Your sitter is a valuable resource you should take advantage of when coming up with a plan to deal with baby’s separation anxiety. The following tips and words of advice are designed to help you and your sitter transition your baby through their separation anxiety, the safe and healthy way.
Tips for Parents to Help Ease Baby’s Separation Anxiety:
- Always wave bye-bye or say goodbye when you leave. While many parents try and sneak out the back door without their baby realizing they’ve left, this can actually make a baby’s separation anxiety worse. You don’t want your baby thinking that you’ll disappear at any moment without notice.
- Be positive! Babies have a nose for negativity. A parent’s mood will rub off on their child — especially on a baby. Stay calm and cheery, even if you aren’t too excited to be leaving the house either. Whatever you do, don’t let your emotions show.
- Engage baby with a toy or activity. Before you leave, give the baby his favorite toy to play with. You can give the baby their favorite blanket or pacifier as an alternative. While baby may still cry when you leave, chances are the activity or toy will distract them shortly after you leave. Be careful with this tip as it may create a dependence on the transitional object/toy.
- Don’t come back for another hug or kiss. Many times parents will keep running back to their crying baby to try and comfort them before leaving. Resist this urge! Running back when your baby cries to coddle them will only train them to cry when they want you.
Working With Your Sitter to Ease Baby Separation Anxiety
While dealing with baby separation anxiety is no doubt hard, you don’t have to go it alone. Your sitter is a valuable resource that you should take advantage of to help your baby grow out of their anxiety.
Whether you have a regular sitter or are about to use a new one, warn them that your baby has been dealing with some separation anxiety. It’s a good idea to have a one-on-one chat with your sitter before the next time they watch your baby so that the two of you are united in your efforts and on the same page. If you’re beginning service with a new sitter, arrange a day or two where they can come in and get to know your baby with you present, that way the new sitter is no longer a stranger when they come to watch your child.
How to Talk to Your Sitter About Baby’s Separation Anxiety
Let your sitter know that it’s OK that your baby is fussy, that they will grow out of it. If you doubt your sitter’s ability to deal with a screaming, anxious baby, consider having a close friend or family member stand in as sitter. It’s also important to let your sitter know that you’re there for them.
Let them know that it’s completely all right for them to call you if you’re needed or if they are feeling overwhelmed. Not only will this make the sitter feel better, you’ll feel better, too knowing that you won’t have to call every few minutes to check in.
Aside from having a discussion with your sitter, here are some other tips that will help you and your sitter ease your baby’s separation anxiety:
- Ask your sitter to arrive half an hour early. This will give the sitter time to settle in with the child, and the fact that you’re still there will have a calming effect.
- Establish a plan of action with your sitter. Determine how you’ll leave, what transition object you’ll use, whether or not the sitter should be holding baby, etc.
- Have your sitter come visit your baby a couple times before actually sitting. This will help accustom your baby to the sitter and ease the transition when you actually do need to leave.
Sitter Cheat Sheet for Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Babies
No matter how prepared you are as a sitter to deal with a child suffering from separation anxiety, it never gets easy. If you need a little help keeping calm while babysitting a baby with separation anxiety take a deep breath and read these tips:
- If baby starts crying, soothe him for a minute or two after the parents leave.
- If baby is still crying after the parents have been gone for a few minutes, try and distract baby with a toy, blanket, pacifier, singing a song or playing a game like peek-a-boo.
- Try not to talk about Daddy or Mommy as this may reignite baby’s anxiety.
- Take some deep breaths; most baby separation anxiety passes after a few minutes.
- Sometimes babies are more apt to cry when they are hungry or tired. See if baby needs a bite to eat or will allow you to rock them to sleep.
- Don’t be afraid to call the parents if you feel overwhelmed or like something is wrong. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Baby Separation Anxiety vs. Separation Anxiety Disorder
There’s a difference between baby separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorder. Children that develop Separation Anxiety Disorder constantly worry that they will lose their parents and that something bad is about to happen. These are the warning signs to look out for. If your child starts developing any of the following, or if the separation anxiety continues to get worse, talk to your child’s doctor immediately:
- Symptoms of a panic attack (vomiting, shortness of breath, nausea) or actual panic attacks before the parent leaves.
- Extreme worry about being lost, kidnapped, or going anywhere without a parent.
- Fear of sleeping alone (this is not exclusive to children with separation anxiety).
- Having nightmares about separation and ending up alone.
To recap, baby separation anxiety is just one of those things that you may or may not — but almost certainly may — have to deal with. It’s frustrating, headache inducing, and if you do it wrong you could end up training your baby to become fearful anytime you leave their sight. Like most things in life, the solution is to form good habits and exercise patience. Hopefully now you’re empowered and realize that with a solid plan, the help of a stellar sitter, and a lot of behavioral consistency, you’ll get through that time when your baby had to deal with separation anxiety, no problem.