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What are good techniques to reduce/wean separation anxiety?

My child cries when her mother or I leave the room, even to go to the adjacent room, or upstairs to get something. Most disruptively, she cries at night when she wakes up enough to be aware of us leaving the room.

Right now I am trying to comfort, calm, and then leave again, to teach her that crying isn't going to get the overall result she craves. I haven't really seen an effect from that yet, though.

She's about a year and a half old.

Any other suggestions?

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Hmmm, similar question: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/207/… – Kzqai Sep 4 '11 at 2:54
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Don't let her be on your hip all day.

A baby this old should be used to playing in a playpen or a gated baby-proof room where she can see you at least most of the time. If your parenting style keeps your child on you during most of her waking hours, separation is scary because it is new and different. You can't expect a child to sleep alone at night when she hasn't yet learned to play in a playpen while you are out of eyesight for a minute or three.

Start by putting her down with some interesting toys while you do a common chore (folding laundry, washing and putting away dishes, putting away the groceries, etc.) Make sure she has line of sight on you 90% of the time, and that when she doesn't you are still in earshot so she can hear you. If she's totally unused to this, you may have to start by making those "disappearances" super-short -- 10 seconds, then 20, then 30, then a minute, then two... you get the idea. If she gets uncomfortable while you are out of sight and starts crying, just call to her from the next room to let her know you are still around, but give her no other special attention for crying.

For bedtime...

Start with a good (and by "good" I mean "unfailingly consistent") bedtime routine. Brush teeth, put on jammies, get snuggled into bed, read a story. Do it at the same time in the same way every night so that it becomes familiar and comforting.

Once the bedtime routine is over, go to some corner of the room and read a book, or use a laptop (on very low light with the screen turned away from her). The key is to be quietly there but not to interact with her in any way. She will cry and protest, but eventually she'll get the hang of it. The more she's used to having you at her beck and call the more she will have a fit -- you've taught her that crying brings mom or dad running, so when that doesn't work she'll ratchet up the intensity until she realizes that things have changed.

After she can handle you being in the room but not giving her attention, move to the doorway, then just outside the doorway, then out of sight but within earshot will start to work. If she fusses after you are already out of the room, wait about 10 minutes before you respond, and respond by poking your head in the doorway, reminding her that it's time to sleep, and walking away.

Why this works

Kids get separation anxiety for one of two reasons (or a combination of both): being away from you (the parent) is new and different and they don't know how to respond, or they are afraid of something (rational or otherwise).

The answer to both is experience. The only way to learn that being away from Mom and Dad is okay is to be away from Mom and Dad. Taking it in small bites makes it easier for your child to digest and they seem to learn more quickly and easily that way then when you try to make them go "cold turkey".

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+1 - Great answer. I particularly like the gradually increasing separation time technique. – Javid Jamae Apr 17 '11 at 5:18
    
+1 for "The answer [...] is experience." – afrazier Aug 1 '11 at 15:25

I know this is an old question, but I really wanted to share my experience. My daughter in the 1-2 years range had separation anxiety as well. She would cry and cling to me whenever I would leave and would start worrying if I left the room and she didn't know where I went.

Another parent gave me an idea to try and I did and it worked very well for us. The idea was to say goodbye to your child and tell them that you would be back. If I was in the house I would tell her I had to use the restroom or whatever else it was that I needed to do, and would be right back. When I was done I would go back to her and say "I'm back". Then when I had to leave her with someone else and actually physically leave the same building as her such as going to work I would tell her what I was going to go do and that I would be back later. Then when I was back to pick her up I would tell her "I'm back".

Of course this wasn't perfect on the first few instances, but over time the crying and the worrying got less and less. She started to say goodbye with me always saying "mommy be back". She came to trust that when I went away I would eventually come back.

The cartoon Daniel Tiger's neighborhood has a very good episode on separation anxiety in children. It features a song the Tiger parents sing to their Tiger cub about how grownups come back. Here is a link to a youtube video of the song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVcFOUYIvWs

My daughter loves singing the little tunes from this cartoon and they have lots of them that help with all sorts of parenting challenges.

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