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Separation Anxiety

When you do leave your baby, don't sneak away when he isn't looking; this will frighten and confuse him and will only exacerbate his feeling of abandonment. Instead, make your good-byes short and sweet when you leave. Tell your baby you love him, give him a kiss, say good-bye and tell him that you'll be back soon and then leave. Resist the temptation to return if he begins crying - this will only make it more difficult and develop bad habits. Also try to fight back any tears of your own if your baby gets upset, as hard as it may be to leave him. If she sees or senses that you are agonizing over the separation, it will only enhance his fear and insecurity. Try giving your baby favorite objects to comfort him while you're away, especially something that smells like you, such as your pajamas or a soft sweater you recently wore.

Separation anxiety is worse when your child is tired, hungry or sick, so try to avoid leaving if she's ill, and feed her before you go, and make sure she gets her nap that day. This is also not the time to try out a new babysitter, so if possible, choose a caregiver that your child knows well. However, if you do have to use an unfamiliar sitter, have him or her spend extra time getting to know your baby before you leave and make sure your child is comfortable with the individual before you say good-bye.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

If your child exhibits severe separation anxiety that he or she does not grow out of, he may have separation anxiety disorder, or SAD. SAD may occur because the child failed to form a secure attachment to a caregiver or because of repeated disruptions or prolonged separations (such as in cases of parental hospitalization, custody disputes, etc.). A history of anxiety disorder in one or more parent is also a possible cause of SAD. Some signs of SAD include:

  • Recurrent, excessive distress when separated

  • Excessive worry about harm occurring to the parent(s) or caregiver(s)

  • Reluctance to go anywhere without the parent(s) or caregiver(s)

  • Reluctance to be alone

  • Reluctance to sleep away from parent(s) or caregiver(s)

  • Repeated nightmares with the theme of separation

  • Vague complaints of physical symptoms like stomachaches or headaches that occur in anticipation of a separation from the parent(s) or caregiver(s).

  • Many children exhibit some or all of these symptoms without suffering from SAD; however, if your child displays these symptoms for at least 4 weeks and his daily life is impaired (he is unable to attend school or be left with a sitter), he or she should be taken to a child psychologist for evaluation and treatment.

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