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Separation Anxiety in Infants

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What can we do about a baby who starts screaming uncontrollably the minute we leave the room or put him down for five minutes? Rocking, soothing, noise makers, sleeping with us – nothing seems to help. My wife has been forced to take him to work with her, but she can't get anything accomplished. What's the answer?

The first thing you need to do is have your child evaluated by your pediatrician to make sure that there isn’t some kind of physical cause for this behavior. Once you’ve ruled out potential medical issues, you can try some other methods of solving this problem.

You might begin by taking a close look at the schedule you’ve been keeping. It’s possible that what you call “separation anxiety” is nothing more than a bad habit that has escalated into a continuous negative cycle. There are some things you can do to arrest that cycle and regain control of the situation. Here’s a simple plan you might try.

Arrange your baby’s crib at an angle in the nursery so that you can observe him through the partially closed door without his seeing you. When you put him down, set a timer for 30 minutes. Then go and get involved in something elsewhere in the house – read a book, for instance, or listen to some quiet music. If he’s still crying after 30 minutes, go back into his room, lay him back down, and pat him gently while saying, “It’s okay. Time to sleep now.” After that, leave the room and repeat the pattern over and over again until he falls asleep.

Some parents might disagree with us, but we don’t recommend that you make a habit of bringing your child into your bed on a regular basis. He may very quickly decide that he wants to sleep with you all the time, and once that pattern has been established it will be very hard to break. You may win the immediate battle, but you will end up losing the war.

Are any of the grandparents available to coach you as you go through this difficult process? How about an aunt or uncle or an older couple in your church or social network? It’s sometimes helpful for extended family members to work together as a team. You’d be surprised how comforting it can be just to have grandma or grandpa present in your home during one of these extended crying bouts. Among other things, they can help soothe your nerves and reassure you that your baby’s behavior is normal. They can also pick up on subtle cues that young parents sometimes fail to notice and help them break negative patterns.

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to persevere and be consistent. Don’t give up too quickly. Stick with it for several weeks in a row before deciding to try something different. The goal is for mom and dad to overcome their feelings of panic, to achieve a measure of calm and repose within themselves, and then to transfer that soothing influence to their child. This will mean working together persistently over the next couple of months. If you hold the course, eventually your baby’s nervous system will mature, your confidence will increase, and your home will be a little more peaceful.

If you need to talk with someone about the trials you’re enduring, we’d like to invite you to give our Counseling staff a call.


Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Focus on the Family Complete Guide to Baby & Child Care

Referrals
John Rosemond: Parenting with Love and Leadership

Articles
Childhood Fears

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