It's often compounded by another fear at this age -- stranger anxiety, when the child is wary of anyone other than her primary caregivers. "That's a good sign, really," says Mona Delahooke, PhD, a developmental psychologist, in Pasadena, California. "It means the baby is beginning to tell the difference between familiar and unfamiliar faces."
Although it's a healthy part of development, separation and stranger anxiety are especially frustrating for parents -- and it's a tough cycle. Not only is a child afraid of your disappearing, but he's also afraid of the caregiver you leave him with.
When Becky Gjendem and her son, 10-month-old Andy, flew from Florida to Nebraska, Gjendem eagerly anticipated the three-week visit with her mother. Andy had other feelings: He screamed when his grandmother held him and spent the entire visit clinging to his mother.
Easing Separation Anxiety
To help your child handle separation, play games like peekaboo often, so she understands you're still there even if she can't see your face. Then practice leaving the room and wait for a minute before returning. When you're ready to move on to real life, start out by leaving your child with your spouse first, then a close relative or friend, and finally a babysitter. Your baby should begin to see that person as a member of the family, and she'll be happy to stay with her when you need to leave. Start with short separation periods, like a half hour, gradually building up time away from her over several weeks.
Whatever you do, when you're leaving a child with these anxieties, don't just sneak out, warns Dr. Brown. If you leave without saying goodbye, your child will have a shock when he looks for you and you're gone, not only boosting his fears of your disappearing but instilling a lack of trust as well. "Instead, tell him, 'I'm leaving, I love you,' or have some consistent routine," says Dr. Brown.