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Separation Anxiety

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4 month old: separation anxiety or just fussy?

Oct 2006

My 4 month old is what I think is just ''high maintanance'' - I have to constantly (every 3-5 mins) change activities. I assumed this is normal or at least semi-normal until recently. I took her on visits (each about a week long) to meet her grandparents and friends. She always smiles initially, but very quickly cries. To me, this is her usual ''boredom'' and she just needs to move on, so I would take her and give her other things to do. People would say ''my, she's fussy'' or ''oh she must be overstimulated'' or ''she needs to eat'' when she just did. Meanwhile I thought she was being what I thought was normal and that these people are just not familiar with infant behavior.

But now I have also left her with 2 different babysitters, who are familiar with infant behavior, for short stints and have been told that she screamed the entire time - whether I was gone for an hour or 3 hours (when they gave up!). She seemed fine/normal when I got her (fussy, but consolable).

So I can't tell if she's anxious from being away from me - when I return or when she's passed to me, she does calm down, but even that only lasts for short times.

Regardless - what do I do? She does do long intervals with her dad very regularly and she takes a bottle from him and seemingly behaves the same. She's also an awesome sleeper at night.

Confused Mom


Hello, I am having a similar problem with my 4 month old baby boy. I went back to work 2 1/2 weeks ago and he has not adjusted to his baby sitter yet. I am only working 20 hours a week, but that is enouth to make him scream for hours while I am gone. When I drop him off he lasts for about 5 minutes until he realizes that I am not around anymore and starts crying. I can only think that it is separation anxiety because other than that he is very happy. He usually doesn't have a problem going with people as long as I am nearby. What we have noticed is that he does better at home. When I have people over and I get busy he can stay with ''strangers'' fine. He also stays with his dad without any problems. He did a little bit better the last time I droped him off. Maybe you just need to give her more time. Good luck! Anxious mom
Hi, 4 months seems a bit too early for separation anxiety. But I can see how you would be confused! I can give you two points of reference. First off, my daughter is a bit ''high maintenance''. She needs constant new stimulation. She is now 16-months-old. Even at 4 months, she too, seemed to get ''bored'' quickly and needed something new to look at, etc. But she was also very comfortable with strangers at this age. On the other hand, my girlfriend's son seemed to cry almost any second he was away from his mom, (especially mom), or dad for the first 5 months. Then, he just changed. He became very outgoing and still is. He's now 15 months. I guess my point is, that whatever your daughter is doing, she will probably grow out of very fast. :) Anon
She sounds exactly like my daughter. I didn't realize that my daughter's constant need to explore, move, etc. wasn't the norm until I joined a mom's group and nine 5-month-old babies happily sat in their car seats, on the floor for two hours, while my daughter basically screamed ''get me out of here, I'm bored out of my mind''! Two years later, it is the same; while my daughter cruises across the playground, the other kids happily stick to the same spot. I have decided to believe my friend's theory, which is that her insatiable curiosity is a sign of intelligence. All this activity helped her to sleep through the night from the start too, and that is a huge bonus. I think that you should trust your instincts (your baby gets bored easily, because she is so smart!) and try to find babysitters who can handle the very active, energetic baby. It took my daughter a while to get used to any new caregiver but it did happen, especially when the caregiver paid close attention and kept her from getting bored in the first place Love the active girls

Separation anxiety in 3 year old

March 2007

My 3 yr. old son has been going to a combined preschool/daycare facility since Thanksgiving (4 hours, 3 times a week). I enrolled him mainly because he expressed a very strong desire to have friends and seemed to get bored just hanging out with me and his little sister (now 18 m).

The school he goes to is terrific - the teachers are very caring, they have fun and challenging activities and he used to really like going there. That has changed a few weeks ago - starting with comments like ''I want to stay home today to play...'' and he is now crying and clinging to me each time I drop him off.

He gets along well with most of the other kids and his best friend is there, too. He had some fights with another boy, but hasn't talked about that recently and the teachers haven't noticed anything either so I think that isn't a problem anymore. The teachers told me not to worry, especially since he is okay once I'm gone (and sometimes doesn't even want to leave when I come to pick him up).

Is this ''just a phase'', do other kids show that kind of seperation anxiety, too and what do you do about it? I feel bad abot leaving him there crying, especially since I'm a SAHM and he cold jst stay home with me till he is a little older... Ines


My son, who is almost 3, suddenly started complaining about going to daycare about 6 months ago. I am sorry to say he has not grown out of this phase yet; every single time he pouts and says he wants to stay home. But since, like your son, he is fine as soon as I leave (and would go crazy if we stayed home, anyway), we decided that the problem isn't with the daycare; it's just a kind of test he is conducting on us, seeing how much control he has over the situation. I suggest talking with your daycare provider about a strategy. In my case, we determined that I was giving too many mixed messages by trying to persuade him (''But all your friends are there, and you're going to do an art project!!'') and staying with him at dropoff time to ease the transition. The message to him was that ''maybe'' the decision was his, that I was considering staying with him instead of leaving. Now, when he complains, I say firmly, ''I'm sorry you're sad, but it's time to go now.'' When I drop him off, I say, ''I have to leave in 3 minutes!'' I'll read or cuddle for 3 minutes and then say, ''It's time for me to go, but so-and-so is going to take good care of you. I'll see you after lunch!'' He seems a LOT more content since we started doing this; he can tell it's not a negotiation, so he spends less time in anxiety mode trying to work it. I know it's hard to walk away from that pitiful sad-face . . . but as long as you are sure he is having fun once you leave, I wouldn't worry too much about the momentary dramatics. You could also cut down the number of hours he's in daycare, but either way it's good to have a transition ''script'' (for days he's with a babysitter, when he goes to school, etc.) Best of luck to you! Anon

Separation anxiety in 4 year old

Nov 2004

For the past few weeks, my 4-year old son has been having severe separation anxiety in the mornings. My husband and I both work and stagger our schedules. My husband drops off our son at preschool at 9am, and I pick him up at 4:30pm. This worked very well for a long time. However, now my son cries every morning and is always begging me to not leave. I constantly try to reinforce to him that I love him and always come home from work, but he still is distraught.

I'm wondering how other families have handled this. Is this just a stage? Has your child suffered any long term emotional consequences? Did you change your work schedule (this would be difficult for us)? I should note that we are due to have another baby soon. Could the idea of a sibling be causing this?

Thank you for your input. Anon


We went through the same thing with my son when he was around the same age. The first thing you need to do is talk to the daycare provider and enlist their help. My son's problem was not so much separation anxiety as it was that he had a hard time transitioning from one situation to another. In our situation, the daycare let him be the teacher's helper in the morning, so he had an adult to attach himself to and specific jobs to do. This helped enormously. I also knew that my son was happy overall at the daycare and wasn't having any other issues at 'school'. Also, I'd try to keep a very positive persepective about things for your child. On the way to daycare talk about the exciting things you're going to be doing at work and the grown-up friends you'll see. And remind him of the fun things he will do and the good freinds he will see and play with. Keep the goodbyes short and sweet and unemotional (on your part anyway). I will tell you that I was very nervous about my son's transition to kindergarten, and we had no trasition or separation problems whatsoever. I think the combination of an extra year of maturity and the exciting world of kindergarten made the kindergarten transition much easier.
My daughter did the same thing. I think it is a stage, but I also wanted her to know that although I have to work, she is still more important to me than work. I solved it by first, taking a couple hours off work about once a month to hang out at the preschool. And second, every couple of months, bring her to work with me for a couple of hours, so she knows where I am, what I do, and why it is important. -working mom
You might want to check into the philosophy or Parent's Leadership Institute - they have a website. Don't know the address off hand, but you can do a search. They are based in Palo Alto, but have many workshops and classes here in the northbay. There are many articles posted on the website about dealing with separation. The general idea is that a child can't resolve separation issues unless they are lovingly supported while going through all the feelings of fear related to separation. I have seen AMAZING results with this process. anon

Separation anxiety and daycare - 20 month old

Dec 2002

We just started our 20 months old daughter in a rather large daycare last week and she does not stop crying the entire time that she's there. Our plan was to have her attend daycare for just 15 hours a week, but she can't even make it through an hour. I know that it is common for children to cry when the parent is dropping them off, but most children seem to stop crying within minutes. My daughter cries for hours. Until we enrolled her in daycare, she had previously stayed home with me, her mother. She has never had a regular babysitter; my husband is the only other person I can leave her with, and even then she will start crying for me when it gets too late in the day. So I know why her separation anxiety is so extreme. The advice I'm seeking is what, if anything, can I do about it? Should I just keep taking her to daycare and expect that she will just get used to it? Would it make a difference if we chose some other childcare option, such as a smaller home-based daycare or a nanny? I am not currently working, but am looking for work. I really need some time for myself, but I also don't want my daughter to be miserable the entire time that she is away from me. If I were to decide to keep her home with me a little longer and try daycare again later, will she still gradually outgrow her separation anxiety? Or is it the type of thing where the longer we wait to establish some regular childcare, the harder it will be? Any advice would be much appreciated. Joann


My daughter started daycare when she was 18 months old. As your daughter, she had been mainly with me and my husband. The toddler group at her school has 3 classes, each with 14 kids and 3 teachers. She also had a hard time adjusting. We kept on trying different things. In retrospect, these are all the things we would have liked to have done from the beginning (or even before she started attending school):
* At night read stories about children in daycare (''When Mommy 
and Daddy go to Work'', etc ) 
* Take some pictures of her school and teachers, look at them 
together and talk about things she could do at school.
* Establish an after school routine (snuggle with Mom while 
reading a book under a cozy blanket).
* After a couple of days of crying, change the morning routine 
and have my husband drop her instead of me.
* In the mornings, while still in the car and when she is calm, 
tell her that she is going to go to school and that she 
is going to paint and sing, etc. Also tell her over and over 
again that I am going to come pick her up at the end of the day.
* Greet her teacher very warmly.
* When dropping her off, give her a hug and tell her once more 
that we would come and get her at the end of the day. Be VERY 
brief and leave without hesitation (and do not come back to take 
a peek and see if she is OK).
* Start her in daycare a little slower such as 3 hours a day (it 
seems that you are already doing that).  5 days a week is a good 
thing because it gives her some consistency.

* Yes, in our case I think it would have been easier to have her 
at at a smaller home-base daycare (from the beginning). But we 
did not like any of the places we visited.  However, I don't 
think it would have been a good idea to move her to another 
daycare (unless there was something obviously wrong with the 
first daycare).

However, it is not all up to you. The teachers also have to make 
an effort. For example:
* They should work hard at engaging her in an activity she 
enjoys. 
* She is accostumed to one-to-one attention. The teachers should 
facilitate her transition by reasuring to her that although they 
are not right next to her all the time, they are close by and 
available.
* They should also tell her what is going on before it happens. 
''Now we are all going to the play room..'' Instead of her seeing 
everyone leave the room. 
Diana
While my child has not personally experienced what your daughter is going through, she does attend a large daycare and I've seen/heard some unhappy toddlers as they adjust. It is SO heartwrenching to hear their pain! At our school, a teacher will usually hold or play with the unhappy child. (An advantage of big schools is that they can afford a teacher to spend one-on-one time with kids having a hard transition. ) Sometimes it takes a few weeks, but eventually most kids seem to feel comfortable and begin to enjoy playing with other kids, participating in the activities (singing/dancing/art/snacks), and playing with new toys. Most schools have a set routine and this helps the kids know what to expect. Maybe in the beginning, just leave her for two hours at a time, same time, every day M-F. She'll learn that when you say you'll be back, you do come back, and she gets a chance to become comfortable with the class. With my toddler it's always helped to discuss new situations and expectations ahead of time (e.g., ''It's time to play with your friends now and Mama's going to work. Soon you're going to have a snack, then play outside, eat some lunch, take a nap and then Mama will come pick you up!) You know your child best, but I think you need to persist for few weeks.

P.S. I think the hardest situation I witnessed was one toddler who went to school only on Friday mornings. He cried for months! The spacing was so spread out that he was constantly going through a difficult transition every time he was at school. Jenne


Hi there, I think that it's very schocking for your daughter to suddenly be put in a daycare situation when all she has known is you as her primary care giver. I am think that she has not been in playgroups either and if I am right this might make it doubly hard for her. I am sure that if you left her in daycare she would adjust....eventually. I think the question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you want her to adjust in that way. If not, perhaps you might want to start by getting her used to being around lots of other children first and when that's said and done getting her used to staying with other adults and then maybe try daycare. If you can't afford the time then maybe you;ll just have to suck it up and let her cry there. I thin it all depends on what you feel is reight for the both of you. Good luck Stephanie

14-month-old doesn't have separation anxiety - not bonding?

Nov 2002

My baby girl is 14 months old and I always see that other babies cry when the mother leaves the room. Mine doesn't do it , only sometimes (rarly) she wines a little bit. I know I should be glad but I read that separation anxiety is an important milestone because it means that the baby has bonded with the mother. Does that mean that my baby didn't bond with me ? I am a stay at home mom ( I read to her, play with her, we go to play groups and so on) She is also still nursing ( 2 times a day ). Overall she is a pretty happy baby only sometimse a little moody. She is not scared of strangers unless she is very tired or cranky. Pretty much everybody can hold her and she usually doesn't cry. Well, I am all happy about that but when I read that separation anxiety is an important milestone I was not sure if I gave my best as a mother. anon


I'm no expert, but I would think that you have absolutely nothing to worry about. It sounds like you have a happy, well adjusted baby whose needs are being met, and she's okay with that. I don't think separation anxiety is an absolute neccesity in the bonding process, I think kids can experience it for just one day, realize that mom really IS coming back, and not worry about it ever again. I know that the tendency is to blame yourself, I absolutely know how you feel!!!! and I know that many people will probably tell you to ''count your blessings,'' but it sounds like you're doing a great job, you're bonded with your baby, and she's just happer than most! Jill
Please ignore all the crap you read in books and instead trust your own instincts. Of course your baby has bonded with you. Some babies like strangers, some don't. Not all babies are the same-- and hurray for that! virginia
I am a stay-at-home mom to my son who is just a year and he doesn't experience separation anxiety either. He is the happiest healthiest baby. That's not just my opinion either. Everyone who meets him says so. We are completely bonded. We have tons of fun and laugh together go to playgroups but he is also great playing by himself or just crawling around the house. Doesn't sound like you have anything to worry about. Tief
I am a developmental psychologist and can speak with some authority when I say that separation anxiety is not an important developmental milestone. Children vary greatly in the degree to which they become anxious around strangers and during separation, and although parenting may play a role in this, I do not think you need to worry. The amount of crying at separation is NOT a reflection of the infant's attachment. What matters more is how your child reacts when you come back. Does she look at you and smile? Does she walk to you or want to show you toys? I suspect you are greeted warmly when you return, and then your child goes on playing and exploring. This means that she is securely attached. I think being able to handle separation well and to enjoy the parent's return means a child is well adjusted. anon
You have raised a child that feels secure, is trusting and knows she is loved. Separation anxiety occurs when children feel insecure; your child knows you'll always be there so she doesn't worry when you go away for a short time. Be glad! tracy
Your baby sounds great (and totally bonded!) I think the message that ''separation anxiety'' is an important milestone is intended to console mothers whose kids scream inconsolably when they leave the room. I don't think the lack of this kind of behavior is anything you should worry about or feel guilty over. My sister had two inconsolable screamers and one baby who loves everybody and can even be left alone in a room for 10 min. w/o complaint. You've got a sweet mellow baby and yes, you are lucky! Fran
My son showed little or no sign of separation anxiety as a 14- month-old (or earlier). Occasionally, he would look slightly anxious when I left, but that was the extent of it. He, like your little girl, is not afraid of strangers (or much of anything else); he's just a very laid-back, cheerful little boy, and has always been quite easy-going. Just because your daughter shows little sign of separation anxiety does not mean she hasn't bonded with you. It probably means that she's not a terribly anxious kid. This is just her temperament, and she was probably born that way. Also, she very well may show separation anxiety later; my son is now 18 months old and suddenly has started howling when I leave him with his caregiver, and asking for ''Mama'' whenever I leave the room. Just doing it on his own timetable, I guess. Karen
Relax! It sounds like she is just a very easy going baby. My 3rd is the same way and we very definitely have a bond. More likely, you have just exposed her to many people and situations as a baby and she is accustomed to strange faces. My daughter is 18 months now and she has started to go through occasional clingy phases, but most of the time she is thrilled to go see one of her ''friends''. It sounds like your daughter is as social as mine so enjoy it now because in a couple years she'll be bugging you for playdates every day! anon

Separation anxiety in 6-month-old

Oct 2002

My six-month-old is already experiencing a strong bout of separation anxiety, especially when I leave her at the childcare center in my gym. The instant I put her down, she starts crying, which continues until the staff pages me (about 10-15 minutes later). I always make sure she is fed and rested, and I have tried hanging out with her for 20 minutes or so before leaving, but nothing seems to help. My 2 1/2-year-old will try to talk to her and play with her while I'm gone, but this doesn't help either. I'm somewhat resigned to the fact that there's not much I can do here, that this will just have to work itself out on its own, but at the same time, I'm desperate for a break from my two children, and going to the gym is the only consistent way I can get it. Should I keep trying a couple of times a week, and maybe she'll get used to it? Or should I wait a month and try again then? Also, she often cries if someone else (she's fine with my husband, but not my mom) is holding her and I am not in her sight, so I have the feeling that her anxiety may get worse at this point. Any suggestions on dealing with this situation would be appreciated. mom needing a workout


At 6 months, my son suddenly developed separation anxiety that coincided, unfortunately, with a visit from my mother. It was his Mama or Nobody and he shrieked if I put him down or left the room. He wouldn't even let his grandma hold him. I was embarrassed and disgusted. It disappeared as quickly as it appeared, about 2 weeks later, with no lasting effects on anyone. molly

5-month-old cried hysterically when I'm gone

July 1999

My 5 month old daughter seems to have developed some separation/stranger anxiety. I've left her with a friend's nanny for a few hours at a time over the past week or 10 days and each time, she starts hysterical crying as soon as she realizes I'm gone, and she stops only when she has exhausted herself or I return. I have confidence that the nanny is trying all appropriate soothing techniques, like rocking, walking, pacifying, feeding, etc. I have spent some time with the nanny and my daughter, and she seems fine while I'm there. Other than this, my daughter has been a very "easy" baby who rarely cries; she is alert, happy, social, healthy and active. I care for her full time, and she spends time with my husband (her father) evenings and weekends. There was no problem about a month ago, when we had a babysitter in our home for a couple of evenings, or when I'd put her in childcare at the gym for a few hours at a time. But she has not been apart from me (except for sleep and the nanny) for more than an hour in several weeks. Is this normal separation anxiety, or is something else going on? Isn't it early for her to experience separation anxiety? Is there anything I can do to ease her into this situation? Some have suggested that it is too early for her to be away from me, but many moms are back to work by her age! I worry that this problem might get worse as she gets older if she does not get exposure to other caregivers now. Has anyone else had a similar situation? Any suggestions and advice would be appreciated. Thanks.


I had the same experience with my daughter (now 11 months) when she was about 5 and a half months old. Yes, it's just separation anxiety. At 4 months, she was the pass-around darling of many parties. At 5-6 months, she suddenly began to scream her little head off when I left the room. Here are my observations:

1. Her utter terror of strangers has faded, although it has not gone away.

2. Although it took a while, she got to know her babysitter, got comfortable enough with her grandma, etc. that I could leave her with them, and she would have a good time.

3. I've learned what sort of comfort she needs with new people. If friends come over to visit, I let her watch from across the room for a while, usually sitting on my lap. When she's comfortable with them, she'll start making eye contact and connecting with them, and will crawl or walk over to them to meet them. But she needs some time to get comfortable with strangers.

4. When I leave her with her sitter -- who she adores -- she will always cry for a little while, just to let me know I'm abandoning her. Then she has a great time.

5. Overall, I don't feel that the appropriate response is either to stay with her all the time or to force her to spend more time away from me. Rather, I try to give her as much support and attention as I can, and also to help her to be comfortable with other people. So far, it seems to be working.


Regarding separation anxiety. My daughter who is now 9.5 mos. was very much like your child at an early age. I went back to work at 6 mos. part time, and thought I was going to die, because the few times I left her with someone, it was not a good experience for her. I did transition her slowly into the situations, and it took probably about one month before she was really comfortable with the nanny. Now they are best of freinds, and what I have found is that she is much better at tranisitioning now then ever (with new people), and this at a time when separation anxiety for babies starts to peak. So either she got it really early, or she has learned to be more relaxed around strangers. I guess my advice would be to transition slowly into the situation, stick with the same person, be somewhat consistent (e.g. i work the same two days every week, it is not sporadic, so she doesn't "forget" the person), and give it time. At least in my case, it has worked out beautifully, and my child's life is now enriched in my opinion, but it was definitely rough at first.

Separation Anxiety for 7 year old

Nov 2002

My seven year old is going through separation anxiety again. Is this a normal phase for this age? She is in second grade and is doing well in school. We have discussed some issues with some bullies at school and some issues have been solved. She has been crying when we drop her at school and also in line when she walks into the classroom. Her teacher told me that other students are going through the same thing. Parents of school-age kids - is this happening with you? Jeanne


i am not sure about the teachers response. Ask her to explain. I think if a bunch of kids are going through the same thing there may be some fire there. 7 is a tough age I think ,but don't give up that there may be something more afoot with the bully. Good luck. It is not easy to watch in the a.m. A book, Oh my baby liitle one ,might help start a discussion about separation. or try a morning ritual that you guys adopt. Something you can easily do every day. Also, how is she when you pick her up? My son was so angry that I left him at all ( he was little though). Well good luck again. anon

Separation Anxiety first time in Kindergarten

June 2002

I have a daughter, age 5, who has only recently shown signs of separation anxiety in her kindergarten class. There are no problems at home or unusual circumstances in her personal life. My daughter is healthy, comes from a loving family, no siblings but a close extended family. We're perplexed since she has been in the same daycare since age of 2, she is in the same kindergarten class since September and has always LOVED school. Fortunately, she has a very good teacher who has provided excellent support. I'd be interested in hearing about other similar situations out there and possible suggestions of ways to get around this. School ends soon, however, in the immediate future, this is frustrating for everybody. Anonymous


I was just talking with some friends about the end-of-the-year blues. Anticipating leaving K (or any grade) and the transition to the new grade can be very scary. I bet your child is manifesting this through not wanting to leave you. (Your child may also be nervous about summer plans/activities) I would ask your child about feelings about first grade. Also ask the teacher to see what they do to prepare for the transition. At my kids' school each of the K classes visits each of the 1st grades and the 1st grade teacher reads them a story. If the first grade is in a different part of the school with a different playground, maybe you could spend some time there before/after school. Good luck! Deborah
I have this suspicion that separation anxiety can come at various stages in development -- not just when the kid is little. My daughter, after years of being really easygoing, developed it when she was around 7. At first, I resisted her demands for lots of attention and reassurance when we parted. She is 8 now and it's not as bad, but she still demands lots of hugs and kisses before I go, even if she's somewhere she likes and has visited repeatedly (like school!). I just go with it, but let her know that it can't go on for more than a minute or two.

Maybe what's going on with your kindergartner is that she's maturing and realizing that the world is puzzling and sometimes disturbing and that her need for reassurance manifests itself in inconvenient ways such as separation anxiety. I would just give her what she's asking for -- with limits on how much time you will spend reassuring her. I think she is changing and the anxiety will gradually subside as she puzzles out the world around her. There's no magic bullet -- the separation anxiety just sounds like a pretty normal part of growing up. Veteran Mom


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