Tearful goodbyes? Some ways you can ease the parting.
Why does my toddler cry when I leave? She never used to.
Your baby’s sadness when you depart is actually a good sign, of her mental maturity and her strong emotional attachment to you. When she was younger, she didn’t yet understand that the two of you are separate people. So when you were out of her sight, you were also out of her mind. But now when she doesn’t see you, she knows you’re there somewhere, and she misses you. At the first sign that you’re heading somewhere without her, she may cling to you for dear life or cry loudly.
Distress about separating is part of learning about object permanence, that things still exist even when she can’t see them. What’s more, your baby hasn’t yet developed a good sense of time, so her distress may be just as deep whether you’re leaving briefly to use the bathroom or for the day to go to work.
Babies also show separation anxiety at bedtime. Because their memory is developing, they know that bedtime routines (like a lullaby and being tucked in) or morning routines (when you put on shoes and pick up your keys) mean the next thing that will happen is your absence.
The good news is that her distress tends to be short-lived. Especially when your baby is left with another familiar person, she’ll quickly become absorbed in a new activity and calm down. And at night, she’ll learn to fall asleep on her own. As painful as separation tears may be for you as a parent, learning how to separate is an important part of your baby’s emotional development, so it’s not a good idea to spare her the experience by never being apart.
Rest assured that most babies experience some degree of separation anxiety. This phase tends to peak between 10 and 18 months and to fade by 24 months, although for some children the feelings can persist off and on for a few years.
Practice helps her get used to your coming and going. You might have a sitter arrive 15 minutes early to give your baby time to get used to this new caregiver’s presence, as well as become involved in an activity that doesn’t include you. Making your good-byes quick and cheerful (rather than drawn out) can help as well.