Dealing with a clinging child (separation anxiety)

Sometime a child may cling too much to her mother or any caretaker, at times not even allowing them to go to the bathroom. As soon as the baby realises that her parent may go away she would catch hold of her parent and cling to the body. At this moment putting her down would create a massive tantrum. Experts call this as separation anxiety.

What is separation anxiety?

For a less than six months old child, the person exists only is she sees it. That means if you are out of site then you don’t exist, and hence the baby can quickly go in the arms of another adult. Babies typically start showing separation anxiety between 6 to 9 months, and this may usually get to its peak between 18 to 30 months. This is the time where the child is emotionally attached to the parents, and if they go away, they are not sure when would they come back.

Is separation anxiety all that bad?

The most important thing to understand is separation anxiety is normal and healthy. Normal because most of the children will show this behaviour at some stage and healthy because it’s a sign that the child is receiving her sense of security through your love and care. Babies receiving this sense of security is very important at the infant and toddler stage as this will make them more courageous when they grow. Some children may show tendencies of severe separation anxiety, and even this is normal and manageable. Most of the children will get over separation anxiety by three or four years of age.

Managing separation anxiety

Here are some things parents can do to deal with separation anxiety with the child.

1. Precautions

We all have (even adults) some degree of separation anxiety within us. Hence before conceiving a child, the parent needs to work on themselves to address their fears. Remember the child will carry parents genetic imprint and emotional state. Hence they can work towards creating a mental and emotional state where they feel secure themselves. After that when the child is conceived the mother should continue to be in such a safe and happy environment which is free of stress and anxiety.

Parents can also consider using water birth that can avoid the childbirth trauma for the child.

The first few months are very crucial to the child concerning receiving the emotional support that comes from attention and physical touch from the mother. The child should receive a lot of physical contacts and at no point should be left unattended. Whenever the child cries, she should receive immediate attention and care. Doing this will allow her to avoid any emotional trauma and make her feel secure. Don’t worry about holding and carrying your baby too much, if you are worried about spoiling or disciplining your baby at this tender age. Physical contact and carrying your baby will only increase your bond and make her emotionally healthy in the long run.

2. Sleep talk

Now when your baby starts feeling separation anxiety, a parent can do a sleep talk to her giving her affirmations that will calm her nerves. Parents can sleep talk the child by holding her or his hand on the child’s head, just as when the child is about to sleep, and, whispering the affirmations in her ear. Parents can use the statements like “Mom will always take care of you”, “Even if mom is away, she will return to you as soon as her work is complete.”, “While mom is away; the ‘caretaker’ will take care of you just like mom does.” so on and so forth.

3. Continuous interaction

Parents need to interact with the child whenever the child is around continuously. This interaction can start from the time the mother has conceived. As the mother is going about doing her chores, she can give a running commentary of what she is doing and what is happening around her. Once the child is born, parents should first explain what they are going to do and then proceed. _‘Saying and doing’_ way of interaction build predictability and trust in the child. Parents avoid giving any false promises to the child. Sometimes a parent may distract the child with a toy and sneak away to do something; this can leave the child in a shock and trauma.

Continuously interacting with the child will also help in building her language silks and overall intelligence.

4. Play peekaboo

Playing peekaboo and hide and seek (one of the parents can carry the child) can help, where the child can get used to the idea of a person leaving and coming back. This way a toddler can also look for a parent at usual place when she needs to. Here is a good article that has 20 playful ways to heal separation anxiety.

5. Pace it up

When you want to leave a child with a baby sitter, make sure she has spent enough time together to build the rapport. Involve the baby sitter in a three-way continuous interactions and a three-way play to make the child comfortable with the baby sitter. This familiarising of a stranger exercise may take some time, so be patient with your child.

Parents can also pace up their ‘leave time’ with the child. That means first to leave the child with the caretaker for a few minutes, then slowly increase that time as per the child’s comfort level. You will see that the child will eventually get the hang of this.

6. Keep it short and sweet

Parents also have their own separation anxiety towards their child. Make sure this doesn’t show up when it is time to say goodbye. Keep it short and sweet, and don’t look back. Yes, the child may cry for some time, and that is normal. Make sure that the child is already comfortable with the caretaker and the caretaker also knows how to do the proper tantrum management.


Once again I would like to mention that don’t worry about spoiling your child with a lot of physical.  Also, do not try to discipline your child by keeping her away. Your love and security are vital for them to be a courageous and more balanced person in a future life. Besides being emotionally attached and ability to deal with separation are not exclusive skills, that means we can have a child that is emotionally attached to us and at the same time can deal with separation also.

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