When babies reach six to eight months of age, separation distress kicks in . . . and it often continues in some form until children are well over five years old. Understand that your child is not being “needy” or “clingy” when he or she can tell you’re about to leave and begins to fuss. Rather, a separation distress system in your child’s lower brain is activating. This separation distress system is genetically programmed to be hypersensitive early in life. It is part of our survival system.
When you leave, children don’t know that you will be returning soon, and you really can’t get the concept of your return across to them because the verbal centers in their brains aren’t completely online yet. When a child is suffering and hurting because of the absence of the parent, the same parts of the brain are activated as when they feel physical pain. Emotional pain should be taken seriously. Do not underestimate the powerful hormonal reactions in the brain and body.
Some people think a child becomes clingy because he or she has been loved too much, is spoiled, or is treated too “softly.” No evidence supports the theory that anxious attachment is the result of excessive parental affection or attention. In fact, when your child is feeling unsafe and “tells” you by clinging, he or she needs support from you. Through clinging, your child is trying to change the balance of the emotional chemistry in his or her brain. Your child wants to feel calmer.
So, when you need to leave your child, don’t rush off. Leaving in a rush will send your child’s stress chemicals and stress hormones up. Rather than leaving hurriedly, try to have quality time with your child before you leave. Hold your child very close. This closeness activates oxytocin and opioids in your child’s brain and helps to calm your child. In addition, by holding your child close, your child gets to find you before he or she loses you. Let your child have a memory of a calm, soothing parent.
You are your child’s world.
More to consider: Plan ahead . . .
Leave your child something to remind him or her of you—such as a scarf that smells like you or a warm, loving message on a recorder. Your child can hear your voice whenever he or she wants to while you are gone.