6 to 9 Months
Most of us have suffered through a painful parenting moment of separation. Maybe it happened just the other day when you dropped your child off at preschool and she hung from you like a 35-pound necklace, begging, "Don't leave me, Mommy, pleeease." You felt beyond terrible as you drove away. But just because your child gets teary when you try to leave her doesn't mean it will always be that way. Separation anxiety is a normal part of every child's development, and it comes and goes. "It's often a positive sign because it means that your child is connected to you," says Claire Lerner, director of parenting resources at Zero to Three, in Washington, D.C. But since you'd like to get through school drop-offs tear-free (or go out to dinner without a tantrum, or leave the room without a "Where are you going?"), we developed this guide to understanding how your child experiences separation at each age -- and how to make the break less painful.
6 to 9 Months
Right now, your baby doesn't understand that something can exist when it's out of her sight. For instance, if you hide her toy under a blanket, she won't look for it because she thinks it's gone for good. So imagine how your child feels when you disappear, even if you just go to the refrigerator. Six months is also the point when your baby begins to understand that she's a separate person from you. Her world depends on you and when she feels a break in that connection, she may panic.
What Your Child Is Thinking
"My mom was just playing with me a second ago, and now she's not. I'm afraid." "Mom left me alone in my crib. I don't want to sleep; I want to be held!"
Practice small separations each day to ease your baby's anxiety so she'll be prepared for bigger ones later. If you need to get the mail or start the laundry, let your child experience a moment alone and realize you'll come back.
When you leave, soothe her with a goodbye mantra. "Even though your baby can't understand you, she still finds the rhythm of your voice calming," says Paul Donahue, PhD, founder and director of Child Development Associates, in Scarsdale, New York. Say, "Mommy is going to leave the room. I'll be back soon to check on you. Mommy always comes back."
This is also a good time to start leaving your baby with a babysitter for a few hours so she gets comfortable with other adults. If she wails when you try to leave, you can let her cry -- most kids stop on their own after about 10 minutes. "Running back to calm her puts her in charge," says Dr. Donahue.