Last night my husband and I were discussing our different experiences with separation anxiety as children. I explained that from the moment my mom dropped me off at daycare in the morning, I was practically watching the door and waiting for her return. If I thought about it too hard, I’d be in tears and every supervisor in the room would come to my aid thinking I had hurt myself only to find that there was nothing really wrong at all. My husband had the opposite experience. He loved the independence of preschool so much he would hide from his mother when she walked in to pick him up, hoping she would give up and leave so that he could have a few extra hours with his pals. We assumed it must have been a gender difference, but I looked into it and found that gender actually has nothing to do with whether or not a child will have these problems. Instead they depend on your baby’s relationship with you.

It sounds harsh, but it’s true that my relationship with my parents was stronger than that of my husband by age 10 months, which is when separation anxiety usually comes about. I was an only child, constantly showered in affection by my doting parents who would drop anything for me in a moment’s notice. My husband had an older sister, and while his parents loved him just as much they took a different parenting approach that included more independence. He was figuring out things on his own while my parents were still cutting my sandwiches into bite-size pieces as a child. If you create a very strong attachment with your baby, there is a greater chance he or she will suffer from separation anxiety when it’s finally time to say goodbye for a little while. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Babies who don’t know how to fend for themselves will feel very afraid and lonely when their caregiver leaves the room, and they’ll make their needs and presence known.

Fortunately, separation anxiety is temporary. Most children don’t have a problem with it by the time they are two years old. Until then, try minimizing the time you spend away from your little one when possible, and let his caregivers know that he might need to be distracted when the anxiety sets in as you walk out the door.

Source: Gilbert, P., Allan, S. and Trent, D. (1996), A short measure of social and separation anxiety. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 69: 155–161. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8341.1996.tb01860.x

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