Does your baby cry when you are not in his field of vision and he refuses to be in the presence of new faces? Let’s talk about this normal phase of development and give you helpful tips.

Separation anxiety and fear of strangers

Separation anxiety is a normal stage of the development of babies and usually starts at around eight months of age. It is characterized by anxiety signals when baby is separated from his mother or in the presence of strangers. For instance, a baby who was easily held by different people in his first months of life may now begin to cry when he sees unfamiliar faces and refuses to leave your arms, even if that means going to daddy's arms.

This phase is not only normal in early childhood but it's especially important when experienced positively by the parents; this allows the child to learn important lessons for his development:

  • They learn to distinguish individuals and recognize faces.
  • They understand that they are their own person and not an extension of their parents.
  • They develop the concept of object permanence, that is to say, they begin to understand that people continue to exist even if they can't see them.
  • They express their individuality by making their preferences known.
How to help your baby through this stage?

Although separation anxiety and fear of strangers are normal behaviors at this stage, it is still important to guide your child in his learning so the experience is positive for him:
  • If you need to leave, always say goodbye so that your child can understand that you will come back even if he can't see you. The worst thing you can do is try to leave without him noticing; this will only increase his fears of you disappearing.
  • Encourage his independence by letting him play alone in a room while talking to him from the next room.
  • As children learn through play, let your child discover the hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo game, which is ideal to teach him the concept of object permanence.
  • Socialize your child so he gets used to seeing new faces. You could also have a friend or a family member babysit him from time to time.
  • Never force your child if he is scared. Let him experience things gradually.
  • Children are emotional sponges so evaluate your own emotions, and if necessary, moderate your own insecurities so he can learn from you.
  • Avoid big changes during this period.
Going back to work

Working moms have to start thinking about returning to work at about the same time as baby starts experiencing separation anxiety. That's not very reassuring for moms to go through. You realize that sooner or later you won’t be with your baby at all times and will spend time away from him longer than ever before. Your baby being without you can be difficult to fathom!

Don't feel guilty for experiencing this range of unpleasant emotions, as it's normal to anticipate the unknown and all the major changes that require some acclimatization. The important thing is for your baby to avoid feeding off your anxiety and make sure this issue does not turn into a permanent one.

Write down how you feel, talk with your friends who have been there, get support from your partner and read up on your questions. For example, our discussion forums are visited by thousands of moms who are going through the same things you are, to varying degrees, and their experience and tips can be of great comfort to you.

We also encourage you to read our article Work-life balance for tips and advice that will help you prepare for a smoother transition back to work.

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