Separation Anxiety

Separation Anxiety

For the six months since he was born, you have been tending to your baby then leaving the room.  And he was totally cool with that.  Now, all of a sudden, every time you depart, your baby goes into total freak out mode, crying and screaming in protest.  What is that all about?

This is what developmental psychologists refer to as “separation anxiety.”  And despite their use of the word “anxiety,” it is not an emotional problem.  It actually is a normal by-product of advances in cognitive development.

For the first six months or so, babies are incapable of capturing information and experience in mental form.  They live strictly in the here and now; there is no past and there is no future, there is only the present moment.  If something is not immediately available to their senses, it does not exist.  Out of sight is literally out of mind.  Let’s say a four-month-old baby is sitting in a high chair playing with a rattle.  He drops the rattle and it rolls under the table where he can’t see it.  What does he do?  Cry?  No.  He just goes on to something else.

The ability to form and store mental images comes in around the six month mark.  So let’s say the same baby is now eight months old, sitting in the same highchair playing with the same rattle.  He drops it and it rolls where he can’t see it.  What does he do?  He may very well cry, but before doing so you see him looking around, trying to find the object he now knows is still there somewhere.

In other words, it is not until around six months that your infant becomes mentally capable of missing you when you are gone, and separation anxiety is simply the natural consequence of his developmental progress.  And after seeing you leave and come back several times over the course of a few weeks, the freak out reaction should gradually fade away.