Parents:Tell me about separation anxiety

My 8 1/2 month old will cry for hours when staying with Grandma or Auntie. Now it’s not often, maybe 3-4 x a month but it breaks my heart.

One of the problems is that he is basically only watched by his father or myself. I work days and my husband workes evenings so we don’t use daycare. This is great in most aspects but the babe misses out on socializing with strangers.

Anything to make it easier on him and us? Or is this just one of those things we have to wait out?

I’m not a parent, but I’ve seen some evidence in the literature that separation anxiety is learned behavior, not an inevitable stage. The idea is that if the child’s distress make you go back and comfort him, he’ll learn that displays of distress are rewarded. The advice I’ve seen is that when you leave him, just go. No turning back, no offering of comfort. It may sound harsh, but in theory, he’s supposed to learn that it doesn’t work any more and stop. I have not tried putting this into practice, so I don’t know if it’s bull or not.

The parenting books that I’ve read (and the experiences with my own kids) have led me to the opposite conclusion of bibliophage. My kids did not do daycare, either, and I don’t really think kids need to be socialized at 8 1/2 months. Your baby probably does not have a clear understanding that you’ll ever be coming back again and is crying out of feelings of insecurity. My approach would be to hold off on the visits away from mom and dad right now, let his brain develop a little more, and try again in a few months. If you’re leaving him because you have to (for work, doctors appointment, etc.), that would be a different situation, but if you’re just doing it because you feel like he should spend some time around strangers, I would wait a bit. He will grow out of it and it will likely be within a few months.

Didn’t really experience this with my DD, but I did lots of reading, and a fairly consistent piece of advice was to “train” your baby to be without you. Put him in the playpen in the living room, give him a hug, say “I’ll be back soon” and then go into another room, out of his sight. Wait a minute or two and then come back. Work on it, gradually increasing the amount of time you’re away. This will help him learn that you’ll come back EVERY time, no matter how long you’re away. Hope this helps. (If it’s just too hard for you to leave him by himself, try having someone else with him -e.g. grandma - while you leave the room).

I agree with C3 - I don’t think that at just 8 1/2 months of age, socializing should be a big concern.

Since having my first kid, I’ve had quite a bit of experience with the separation anxiety stage in my and other people’s babies - mostly through various creches at church-related activities, and I learned a couple of interesting things from this.

  1. 8-9 months is a really rotten time for separation anxiety. Probably the worst, actually. Kids below about 6 months generally don’t care too much about being passed around, and after, say, a year they’re more mobile and easy to distract with interesting things but in the middle there is where they really really want their OWN parents. With most kids this seems to fade after a few months, if you just keep doing what you’re doing.

  2. There are some kids (often the siblings of kids who have gone quite happily into creche, so I don’t think it’s the parents’ doing) who are really hard cases, and Just Won’t Go. Maybe 1 in 20 of the kids I remember have been like that - kids where you count it an acheivement to get them to stay in 10 minutes without completely losing it. Sometimes with a LOT of distracting and jollying and whatever we could keep them out of complete despair, but generally we had to hand them back to the parents after 15 minutes. I’ve seen kids take almost until their second birthday to be comfortable with other carers. Some of these kids went to regular childcare too, and didn’t have problems, but they just didn’t see us weekend folks often enough to incorporate into their mental map as “surrogate family”

I’d also say don’t worry about socialising. In a few months you might want to think about a playgroup or something, but I haven’t found that a majority diet of parent care made my kids any less likely to be ok later on (eg preschool etc) to settle in just fine

I’ll join the chorus saying don’t worry about it for now. Our kids never stayed any great length of time with anyone until well over a year old. If it had been necessary, of course we would have done it but we weren’t in a position where we had to leave them before they were ready and it worked OK.

I’m sure you’re right about no need for socialization at that age, but as far as books go you can find any that will agree with your own philosophy if you look around. There are plenty of “experts” who say to let them cry and plenty who say to hold them and comfort them.

I say to hell with the experts, holding and comforting them feels right because it is right. So there. :stuck_out_tongue:

There are a lot of things you can do to help him learn that you will come back.

Play peek-a-boo.

Put two toys in front of him. Let him watch you hide one in your shirt. Then say “where is it?” a few times and pull it out again

Any little game which helps him see that out of sight does not = gone forever.

Make a habit of walking away, then coming back. Make a good-bye routine i.e. peck on the cheek and “see you later darling” then walk away fro five minutes. Gradually increase the time away as he becomes more comfortable.

Have the carers come over and spend time ith him at your house, while you two are around. train them on the things you do to calm and soothe him.

Whatever it takes, I have to say that “hours” is too long. The Celtling cries when I drop her in her classroom each morning, but I never leave until she is calm, and it seldom takes more than five minutes. If she cries for ten, I go back. (A pox on those evil people who try to convince you this is “training them to cry” no, it is “teaching them that you care!”)

If she cried for hours while I was gone I think I’d be on welfare.

Thank you all for your suggestions. I’m fine with him not socializing at this point. Unfortunately due to work, there are occasions when he must stay at Grandmas. It’s not often, maybe 2-3x a month. It seems like he is great for the first hour or so and then he just starts sobbing.

He’s not upset at all when I leave, only some time into the visit. I will do more of the peek aboo and leaving the room and such. I’m also going to bring one of my shirts there for him to have my scent. I never leave him there more than 4 hours but a big part of this is him not napping. He naps fine at home but fights napping at Grandmas. Then the crying starts and after an hour or two he falls asleep (maybe).

I was thinking of having my mom come to our home so at least he is in familiar surroundings. I don’t know if it would help but we need to try something.

Thanks again.

I say this sounds fine - it may be more that he’s bored after an hour or so, and it a great idea to have Grandma come to you instead of the other way around. I also think it’s not the biggest tragedy in the world for baby to cry - he’ll get over it, I promise :slight_smile:

Even if you didn’t have to leave for work at times, you and Dad should be leaving him for dinner sometimes - it is very easy to lose sight of your relationship with your SO in the joy and mess of having a new baby. Date night should be at least twice a month, and baby will just have to deal with it.

Is there any way you could have him visit Grandma more frequently, but for shorter periods (say once or twice a week for a couple of hours)? I’m sure your child remembers her vaguely, but compared to you and her dad, grandma is an ancillary person who’s nice, but not a primary caregiver.

My son had some separation anxiety, especially when he was progressing from one stage to the next. I let him cling for a little bit whenever I was home, including carrying him around if he wanted, lots of hugs and kisses. I also would play peek-a-boo and go out of eyesight for a while, but I often would sing so he knew I was there. Unfortunately, I work during the day as does my husband, so daycare has always been necessary. The upside is that he knows the people who care for him very well because there’s little turnover at our daycare and many of the teachers from the more advanced rooms play with the younger kids to make transitions from one stage to the next easier.

Are you sure it is separation anxiety and not just overtiredness from not napping? In my own experience, when my kids were going through their phases of separation anxiety it played out with clinginess and crying when I left, not an hour later like you describe. If kiddo is missing his nap he could just be crying from being tired. Or he might just have more of an issue sleeping away from home - my youngest does not like to nap in unfamiliar places either. Just asking because the ‘treatment’ might be different if it is not separation anxiety.

Either way, kids usually do just outgrow it. One thing I have learned as a parent that usually as soon as I was at my wit’s end with a phase, and tried everything I could think of, they would just get over it on their own.

Either that or, as soon as you think you’ve got something figured out and a routine down, the kid goes and changes it and you have to start all over again. Sometimes I need someone to remind me again why it’s good that they develop their own opinions. :slight_smile:

Well, I thought it could be overtiredness but the other day kiddo was at Grandmas 40 minutes after his very long morning nap. He was only there for 2 hrs, 1st hour he was fine and then he lost it.

Overlyverbose made a good suggestion. I am going to bring him there more frequently and see if that helps. My heart aches when I know he’s sobbing.

It doesn’t sound like separation anxiety to me. It sounds like a tired baby. Separation anxiety is what happens when he separates from you, and that seems to be going fine.

What’s the naptime setup at Grandma’s? Does he have a bed there? Are the blankets and/or sheets brought by you or washed by her in perhaps unfamiliar detergent? Does she put him down in the same position he used to at home? Does she have the same soothe/cry it out philosophy you do? What are her nap/bedtime routines? Does she put him down before he starts crying, or wait until he’s already worked himself up?

Yes, it might seem impossible for him to be tired after only an hour, but the stress of being in an unfamiliar place is tiring, and giving him an extra long nap before he gets there itself might be tiring (too much sleep makes me tired and cranky, anyhow.)

One of the best things we did that I somehow always forget to mention in parenting threads, was to sing a special sleepy time song to the baby. From her first day home from the hospital, we’d sing (from Bye Bye Birdie) “We love you, Conrad!” only with her name instead of Conrad. Then kisses, then tuck in, then turn on a Lullaby CD, turn out the lights and that was it. This very simple, very easy to repeat routine let her know what was going on, and that there was no negotiating here. When she went to my mother’s, we simply taught Grandma the song, handed her the CD and that was the end of that. She said she couldn’t believe it - at bedtime, the baby was still alert and didn’t seem at all sleepy, but once she heard her song, she was nodding off before her head hit the pillow. It’s like Pavlov’s Pentobarbitol!

It’s never to late to develop a routine, and most children thrive on it.

It isn’t going to hurt your kid to cry. So he’s with Grandma, let him cry. You already said “It breaks my heart,” which leads me to believe you give in to him.

Heck he’s never had it so good and he knows it.