Separation Anxiety: What It Is, Why It Happens, and How to Make it Through

It can happen without warning: you’re dropping off your little one at daycare or Grandma’s house, and what is typically a seamless handoff suddenly explodes into a teary spectacle as you pry their little hands off your body.

What Is It?


What happened?! Well, most likely, your little one is beginning to experience the phenomenon of separation anxiety. Typically starting around 6-7 months and extending into toddlerhood, separation anxiety is a common developmental stage in which children feel anxious or afraid when separated from their parents. If you’ve experienced this with your child, you know how helpless it can make you feel and how hard it can be to be apart from your baby during this tricky phase! But why does it happen? How do you make it through? And will this phase ever end?!

We did the research (and spoke to a few experienced mamas) to answer these questions and more! The gist? It’s normal, and you will make it through this!

Why Does It Happen?

Although some babies skip separation anxiety altogether, it is very common for this phenomenon to develop around 5-7 months of age. This is the time when babies begin to understand the concept of “object permanence,” meaning that they now understand that when things are out of sight, they don’t cease to exist. This can play into separation anxiety because your little one will begin to understand that when you drop them off at the sitter’s or even simply walk to another room, you still exist—and they’ll want to be with you! After all, you are their world, mama!

On top of this, infants typically start to develop some mobility around this time, and they begin to understand that they have some autonomy over their bodies. This can lead to things like clinging, crawling after you at drop-off, and crying to get your attention as you walk away. These are all normal reactions, and this is an important developmental process that, in the moment, can be so frustrating! But keep in mind that this is all a necessary part of the process as your baby grows and learns more about the world around them.

How Can I Help My Child?

  • Be Consistent. Develop a routine and stick to it! Try to hand the baby off to the same caregiver each day, if possible. For toddlers, it can be helpful to have a special “goodbye ritual,” like a special handshake or a specific number of kisses and hugs. Having a routine will help make your little one feel comforted and secure, even when the time comes to separate.


  • Use Distractions. If there is an activity, snack, or toy your little one loves, have it on hand to distract them! The positive feelings of having their favorite snack or playing with a little friend can help temper the anxiety they feel when faced with separation from their mama.


  • Keep It Quick. Try to keep your goodbyes short and sweet. The more you linger or draw out the farewell, the more anxious you both will feel! Goodbyes should be relatively quick so the baby can move through the transition between mama and caregiver and get comfortable with their new environment.


  • Don’t Look Back. It can be heartbreaking to hear your little one cry as you walk away! The urge to turn around and scoop them up can be overwhelming. Try to keep moving forward and resist the urge to look back—if you make eye contact with your baby, it may reignite their anxiety and make the separation even more difficult.


  • Keep It Positive Try not to show any sadness or anxiety when you are dropping off your little one. They take their cues from you, and if they see mama is upset, they are more likely to feel unsettled and upset as well! Conversely, if you seem happy and relaxed, your child is more likely to be happy and relaxed. Of course, mamas feel sad too, so if you need to shed a few tears, go for it—as soon as you’re out of sight, of course!

Don’t Beat Yourself Up, Mama.


Separation anxiety is a tough phase for infants, but it can be even more difficult for you! It is a mama’s natural instinct to protect their little one from sadness and fear, and leaving your baby in tears can truly be heart-wrenching! Keep in mind that in most cases, baby will be happy and settled within just a few minutes of your goodbye, and that this is a normal and necessary part of their growth and development. You will make it through the separation anxiety phase, and soon it will all just be a memory. You’ve got this, mama!

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