the first strike: babyhood
Though the timing can vary from child to child, separation anxiety typically first hits around 8 months, when babies suddenly grasp that their parents exist apart from them, says Abbot. "Literally, it's like, boom! They understand you can leave." They don't, however, understand that you're coming back. This anxiety may last several weeks, or even a few months, until your child realizes that you're not, in fact, abandoning him for life -- you're just going to the bathroom.
how to get through it:
start early By 6 months, introduce your baby to other regular caregivers, such as relatives or a babysitter. "Your child needs practice being away from you, hopefully well before preschool," says Alex Barzvi, Ph.D., clinical director of the New York University Child Study Center's Institute for Anxiety and Mood Disorders. "You want someone else to hold and talk to your kid a little differently." These experiences may minimize her anxiety later on when you're not around.
keep your goodbye short A quick "Bye, James, see you this afternoon!" is ideal. "Prolonging the departure gives your child the idea that there's something to be afraid of," Barzvi says. But here's the really tough part: Try not to let the sobbing lure you back. Reappearing after you've left only gives your child incentive to cry harder and longer next time.
match your body language to your words "Your child can sense your confidence as you walk out the door," Cooper says. Flash a smile, give a cheerful wave. You'll be faking it, of course, but she won't know that yet. She'll just know that you feel good about who she's with -- and she can, too.
avoid sneaking off Parents often dash out the door when the child isn't looking, hoping -- understandably! -- that this will preempt a meltdown. "But that's tricking your child, and it can break your child's trust in you," Barzvi says. Instead, first ask your caregiver to redirect your child's attention right after you leave with a favorite toy, a game of peekaboo, or some new music (whatever), then say your quick goodbye.