As an infant, my son, Will, cooed whenever he saw Grandma. He loved cuddling in her arms as she sang to him. But when he turned 7 months old, he wasn't quite so comfortable. One night when my mother came over to babysit, Will clung to me and then cried his eyes out as I left the house. The experience had me—as well as my mother—on the verge of tears. But it turns out that there was really nothing to worry about. Will was merely going through the predictable stage of separation anxiety.
Between the ages of 6 and 9 months, a baby learns that he's a separate being from his parents, and he is capable of distinguishing them from other caregivers. His memory has improved too; he's able to recall images (whether it's a ball he likes playing with or Mommy's face) even when they're out of sight. These are exciting cognitive advances for him, but in the short term they may cause him to feel abandoned when you go away. "Separation anxiety is a sign that your baby misses you when you're not there, and that's good," says Kathleen McCartney, Ph.D., a professor at Harvard University's School of Education. What's even better is that it's merely a passing phase and usually begins to subside at about 15 months.
Almost all babies get anxious about separating at some point, though the intensity of your child's reaction depends on her temperament. Other factors play a role too: Infants who have been exposed early on to caregivers other than their parents tend to have an easier time dealing with departures in later months. However, if your baby is tired, hungry, or sick, she's likely to give you a very hard time if you leave. While your baby's cries may tempt you to cancel your plans, giving in will only make matters worse the next time you need to leave. Besides, she'll probably calm down shortly after you walk out the door. In the meantime, here's what you can do to comfort your child.