For Mirta Syazanna’s 16-month-old daughter, Maira, seeing her mum simply go into the bathroom and closing the door can cause a meltdown. Mirta shares, “[She also] cries whenever my husband [and] I leave the house for work, even when her grandparents are around. The good news is the tears only lasts for a few minutes.
Mirta’s experiences with Maira is a text-book example of separation anxiety, a natural occurrence of your baby’s developmental process. While it is hard to determine when your child might start showing signs, most doctors agree it can happen any time after 6 months and usually peaks when junior turns 2.
Mother of two daughters, Sharon Tan, 26, says, “I noticed that [my older daughter] didn’t have such behaviour until she was a little more than 1 year old. Perhaps that’s when she started to have a clearer [idea] of what’s going on around her.”
“[Some] children settle down within a few days, some a few weeks and some can even take up to a couple of months.”
To further complicate matters, the extent of your tot’s separation anxiety can also vary day-to-day and will be different to how his peers handle it. Ayman Zaidi, a preschool teacher at Bright Kids School House, says, “[Some] children settle down within a few days, some a few weeks and some can even take up to a couple of months.”
Dr Nancy Tan, a paed at SBCC Baby & Child Clinic, points out that this form of anxiety tends to occur more in babies who spend very little or a lot of time with their primary caregivers.
If you are worried all that howling and anxiety maybe damaging to baby’s health, Dr Tan puts your mind at ease which this piece of advice, “It is actually a sign that your baby has healthy attachments to loved ones.”
Nevertheless, having to deal with your tyke’s tears can get pretty tiring and challenging — especially when you are trying not to be late for work. Here are nifty ways to nip your kewpie’s anxiety in the bud.
TIP #1: Practise separation for brief periods of time
Settle your sweetie in her chair or rocker. Then tell her you’re going into another room and will be right back. While she may not be able to understand the words, informing her should always be part of the “goodbye ritual” (scroll down for more info on this).
You don’t have to leave the house — especially if it means leaving your baby unsupervised — for these exercises to work. From disappearing to another room, you can slowly progress to running short errands nearby. Be sure to leave your baby in the hands of a loved one, nanny or helper, never alone.
Remember to do these exercises after a feed or after she’s just woken up from her nap. A tired and hungry baby is definitely crankier and harder to say goodbye to.
TIP #2: Start training them early
It’ll be wise to start your child’s separation-training early, especially before they start preschool. Six months is a good time to start letting him get used to adjusting to relatives, nannies or helpers in your absence. Dr Tan also advises that you sign your kiddo up to join play groups or preschool by as early as age 3 or 4 so that they are familiar with being around other people.
TIP #3: Stick to familiarity
Speaking of familiarity, know that it plays a huge role in helping your child cope with your absence. So minimise unnecessary changes to bubba’s surroundings. If you need to leave your mini-me in a totally new environment, Dr Tan advises, “Make new surroundings familiar when she’s away from home [by letting] her bring a familiar object.” This could be in the form of her favourite toy or a blanket she sleeps with.
Don’t switch caregivers abruptly, too. Invite the new caregiver over to the house for junior to play with and give them both a chance to adjust to each other’s company before you leave them for extended periods of time alone. This will also give you time to sort out any teething issues which is bound to rise when a new person takes over the role of caregiver.
“Make new surroundings familiar when she’s away from home [by letting] her bring a familiar object.”
TIP #4: Develop a “goodbye ritual”
While it is not advisable to sneak out without baby knowing, nor should you overcompensate with long and dramatic goodbyes, either. Strive to keep it light-hearted by smiling and waving. A simple hug and a kiss is also more than sufficient, notes Dr Tan. Also, remember to tell her you are leaving and that you will return, then go.
As your child doesn’t have a clear understanding of time, try to make reference to an activity for the day instead. Saying, “I’ll be back before dinner time” is more helpful than “I’ll be back at 5pm” or “I’ll be back in the later part of the day”.
Don’t linger after saying your goodbyes or worse, return after bidding farewell. Ayman notes that whatever you do, don’t hide and try to steal glances at your kid. “The child will still continue to cry every time [he] spots his parents,” Ayman adds.
Angie Puan, 26, mother of two, shares her routine: “I usually just walk away after assuring my son that we will see each other soon and he should enjoy the toys and the games with friends [in the meantime].”
TIP #5: Be consistent, patient and firm
There will be a lot of wailing and tears (for you and baby) before junior gets used to being apart from you. Dr Tan says the only way for the both of you to get through the rough patch is to not cave in, but set gentle and firm limits and follow them through.
Dr Nancy Tan, is a paediatrician at SBCC Baby & Child Clinic, Gleneagles Hospital.
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