Separation anxiety occurs because your baby is now experiencing a new skill called object permanence. Object permanence is the ability to recall information despite the information not being present. Your baby is now able to recall mental pictures of you when you’re not there. Or, they will start to seek out you (or their favourite toy) when you’re not present. Games of peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek can support their learning that you (or the toy) will return.
The two peek-a-boo songs below are a great place to start when teaching your little one about object permanence.
Separation anxiety can continue into the preschool years, especially if your little one knows how much their tantrums and anxiety impact you. Since they are older, they can understand how they are feeling and are able to challenge you to change the circumstances you have presented.
In order to support your little one, talking to them about when you will return in terms that they will understand. For example, “I’ll pick you up after snack time,” or “I’ll be home after nap.” Then, keep your promise; in doing so, your little one will begin to develop trust and independence.
It’s also important to be consistent with your routine when separating from your child. My preschooler suffers from separation anxiety. It has certainly improved since he started preschool, but any time we deviate from the normal routine he has a terrible temper tantrum that rips at my heart. When I drop him off at preschool, we put on his shoes, grab his lunch kit, and have a hug and a kiss. We’ve also introduced “the Kissing Hand,” which comes from a story of the same name by Audrey Penn. In the story, Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school. His mama shares a family secret called “the Kissing Hand” to reassure him of her love any time he feels scared.
As you’re little one grows their separation anxiety should decrease. However, if you’re ever concerned about your little one, talk to your family doctor for support.