This is a normal part of your child's development which usually begins around 6 months (for some can be as early as 4 months), normally peaks around 10-18 months old and usually tends to disappear close to the age of 2 years. Object permanence can begin early on which is when babies realise that people & objects exist even when they can't see them. Younger babies do not have an understanding of time until they're older so if you leave the room can become very upset not knowing if and when you will return.
A fear of strangers - which is also a completely normal & common part of development - is linked to unfamiliarity, but tends to often be a part of separation anxiety when it comes to children. Nearly all children will experience this healthy developmental milestone which shows they have formed a healthy & secure attachment with you.
First let's take a look at some common Signs of Separation Anxiety:
Becoming very clingy with parents/caregivers and being very upset sometimes with excessive crying or tantrums when they are not in sight or reach
Refusal to do anything that requires separation from familiar people (often the parents)
Waking often during the night and crying & for some children refusal to sleep alone needing a parent/caregiver in close proximity in order to feel more settled (sometimes after sleeping well or sleeping through the night)
A strong preference for one parent
Comforted easily by the embrace, presence or sight of a parent
A fear of strangers
A strong need to have a parent or familar caregiver in sight
Coping with Separation Anxiety during the Day:
Practice quick safe separations at home - going into an adjacent room whilst singing or talking so they know that you're still there
Your child will be more prone to feelings of distress if tired, hungry or unwell so try to time needing to leave when they are likely to feel calm, for example after a nap or after being fed. If they are sick it is better to be in close proximity to them to provide comfort
For young babies, games such as hide & seek and peek-a-boo can be helpful which show you always come back after you leave
Stories about dolls or toys who go on small journeys (you can also hide them and then reunite with them) reinforces this idea
If baby initiates the separation, for example, crawling into another room, if it's safe wait a little while before following
Don't skip goodbyes and avoid sneaking out
Practice being apart - visits at grandparents, play dates etc
Try to keep your emotions in check at least until you get to the car - seeing you upset will heighten your child's anxiety
Create quick goodbye rituals without lingering - but don't rush off either, provide reassurance before you leave, for example, "I'll be back after you have had your lunch/nap/afternoon playtime"
Remind yourself that your baby will be okay, they will be distracted by the carer you are leaving them with & will turn their attention to them
Plan a happy reunion to reinforce the parent - child bond, for example 'when I pick you up I can't wait to see the picture you're going to draw for me'
Encourage a relationship with a special toy if they have one - comforters/lovies can be useful in such circumstances
Coping with Separation Anxiety during the Night:
A soothing bedtime routine can help to set your baby's expectations by keeping a consistent pattern which provides a sense of comfort
Offer plenty of love and cuddles when putting them to sleep for the night and try not to let your own anxieties & fears show
Use a comforter/lovie - a transitional object can help with the feelings of separation anxiety & resettling at night
Leaving the door open if your child sleeps in their own room - hearing you in the other room during wake ups may provide a sense of comfort & reassurance
Keep the wake ups during the night unstimulating
If your child is older you can speak about what you're going to do together in the morning to help ease any anxiety
Offer extra support to your child if needed at bedtime and during the night. Securely attached infants will have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol which in turn will aid with sleep
Always make sure you keep your promises. Make sure to return when you say you will, be consistent so your child builds trust in you & confidence/independence in themselves
Remind your child they are safe, their fears of being separated from you are real and any comfort will be reassuring for them
By providing positive experiences when saying goodbye followed by happy reunions can help both of you to cope with the struggles around separation anxiety
If they have a preference for one parent, know that it's completely & try not to take it personally
Remind yourself that this is a normal but temporary developmental phase which shows your child is able to form healthy secure bonds with the people they love
The more you meet your child's needs for attachment, the more confident & secure they will grow to be
* Depending on the age of your baby, infant or child, only some of the tips above will be applicable*
Words of affirmation: Assure your child that they will be safe and you'll return for them, all without belittling their fears.