Separation Anxiety Disorder and Babies – Circle of Moms

There are mothers that wonder if their infant that is crying for them and wants them 24/7 is experiencing “separation anxiety disorder”. Circle of Moms posted this topic on their website and of course this parenting expert that specializes in the relationship dynamic between family members, including parents and children shared her insights.

The question on the Circle of Moms website included: “Do you think my daughter has separation anxiety disorder?” Below is the answer I documented:

Certainly she is feeling anxious about being separated from you, not to worry, what a normal part of her developmental stage! It is not something to be alarmed about in the “clinical sense” of “separation anxiety disorder”. Rather look at it this way: it is normal to feel anxious when ‘a-part’ from mommy, as she is still in the learning stage of development that leads a child to wonder: “will mommy return to me” and “I want my mommy right now and all the time”. Her reaction in behavior shows those words. ¬†Babies are on a journey of attachment and detachment. Therefore, your baby is in the process of developing her style of attachment. In addition she is learning about her relationship with you every day (e.g., what she can expect from you, where she stands in her relationship with you, her position in the household with all the people there). Her reaction is the only way she knows to get you to fulfill her needs. What a smart baby huh, she has learned that if she “freaks out” as you said that you will stop whatever you are doing and come to her (and in my clinical opinion, you are doing the right thing by stopping what you are doing and going to her, even though it is exhausting).

It is my belief that babies should learn that mommy is there for them as it makes them feel special and that their “voice” is being heard. (I actually used the example of infants crying for a parent as an example in the parenting book that I published where I discuss the importance of “hearing one’s child’s voice”. I recognize it is a controversial belief as some believe not to attend to their baby every time, I believe a parent should). Certainly if you are not already, with your body (e.g., hugs) and your actual words/what you say to your baby, and tone – do reassure her which is what she wants, and deserves.

If she does not “freak out” she learns that you will be busy doing something else, whether it is cleaning, or communicating to one of the other members in your house etc. Which of course, as a mom myself, I do understand, as all moms do, that we all sometimes do need to take care of other responsibilities too. As a family therapist providing counseling for 18 years specializing in the relationship dynamics between parent and child, parenting issues and marriage issues, I will share with you that she is speaking the only way she knows how to in an effort to express to you that she needs you right now and is longing for your connection. Her desire and longing for connection to you and with you and not to be separated from you in and of it self is a VERY normal part of and stage of her development. The fact that her reaction you may feel is severe, the hope is that over time she will feel more at peace and the intensity of her attachment in behavior will decrease. Remember, babies are developing their style of attachment with each experience they have with their parents. It is those experiences and how as a parent you respond to your child is what informs that style of child-parent attachment.

With your patience, nourishment, support, and reassurance in your interaction with her when she longs for you during her freak outs, as well as when she is not freaking out, spending time with her where she feels like she is truly number one in the house to you, and that she feels like she is the most special and important person in the world to you is important for your child. Whether it be when you give her a bath, change her diaper, read to her with her on your lap, spend hug time with her, play time with her, the goal is for her to feel nourished that you value and relish parenthood with her. The assumption and hopes shall be that she will indeed learn that you are there for her and that she is indeed number one (some babies do struggle and react with more intensity than other babies and their reactive responses are not all exactly the same). As nature and nurture impact a child, of course if it continues to be a struggle for you and you are concerned, do not hesitate to contact your support network to discuss further (e.g., friends, family, family doctor, health care practitioner, etc.).

If you wish to read any of my articles on parenting please do not hesitate to check out my website as I have lots of free informative articles as well as radio and TV interviews on varied parenting topics, as I sincerely value helping others.

Best of wishes to you, and to any mom that is struggling with this. I hope my thoughts are helpful.


Dr. Karen Ruskin, PsyD, LMFT


If you wish to read the answers offered by other mothers, click on this link which will take you to the Circle of Moms website.

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