How to Survive Separation Anxiety

You can make hellos and goodbyes easier for both of you.

Separation Anxiety Baby Holding Mothers Leg Priscilla Gragg

Why It Happens

Your little one can now tell the difference between you and a stranger, and she definitely prefers you. The resulting stranger anxiety may make her hide her face or cry when someone unfamiliar appears. Around the same time, she grasps object permanence—the notion that people and things exist even when she can’t see them, including you. Gradually or almost overnight, she may start breaking into sobs whenever you head for the door. Separation anxiety can start to surface as young as 4 months old or never. Your little one’s temperament plays a big role in whether separation and stranger fears appear and whether they last for days, months, or more, says Jeff Brown, M.D., clinical professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College, in Valhalla, New York.

When To Expect It

8 to 12 months

How To Greet Strangers

Keep your distance. Hold your baby when visitors arrive so he feels more secure. Talk in a soothing voice and greet the people affectionately, but don’t go near them until he seems ready.

Build his comfort level. Before leaving your baby with someone new, have the person play with the two of you a few times. Seeing you interact warmly with the caregiver will encourage Baby to do the same. 

Get out and about. Visit the park or other places where your baby will see other people. Go out of your way to be friendly and polite.

Ways To Part Peacefully

Do a dry run. Leave your baby with a trusted friend for an hour or two to practice being apart. If your baby is headed to day care, visit the center together a few times first.

Make it routine. Keep goodbyes consistent, so your baby learns what to expect. Tell her when you’ll be back, give her hugs and kisses, and then leave without showing any of your own anxiety.

Know your baby. If staying for a few minutes calms her down, do it. If it only prolongs the screaming, do your goodbye routine and go, says Dr. Brown. Her tears will most likely stop soon after you leave. 

Time it right. If possible, avoid starting a new child-care situation when your baby is 8 to 12 months old, when separation anxiety peaks. Also, try to say goodbye after a nap or mealtime, when she’s less likely to be cranky. 

Should you worry?

Not every infant has separation and stranger anxiety—and that’s okay. But do talk to your doctor if your baby doesn’t make eye contact, smile, or interact with you.