Question: Our baby seems to be suffering from severe separation anxiety. If we put him down for five minutes he starts to scream uncontrollably. Rocking, soothing, noise makers, sleeping with us – nothing seems to help. My wife has been forced to take him to work with her, but she can’t get anything accomplished. What’s the answer?


The first thing you need to do is have your child evaluated by your pediatrician to make sure that there isn’t some kind of physical cause for this behaviour. Once you’ve ruled out potential medical issues, you can proceed to try some other methods of solving this problem.

True anxiety or bad habit?

You might begin by taking a close look at the schedule you’ve been keeping. It’s possible that what you call "separation anxiety" is nothing more than a bad habit that has escalated into a continuous negative cycle. There are some things you can do to arrest that cycle and regain control of the situation. Here’s a simple plan you might try.

Arrange your baby’s crib at an angle in the nursery so that you can observe him through the partially closed door without his seeing you. When you put him down, set a timer for 30 minutes. Then go and get involved in something elsewhere in the house – read a book, for instance, or listen to some quiet music. If he’s still crying after 30 minutes, go back into his room, lay him back down, and pat him gently while saying, "It’s okay. Time to sleep now." After that, leave the room and repeat the pattern over and over again until he falls asleep.

Plan for the long term

Some parents might disagree with us, but we don’t recommend that you make a habit of bringing your child into your bed on a regular basis. He may very quickly decide that he wants to sleep with you all the time, and once that pattern has been established it will be very hard to break. You may win the immediate battle, but you will end up losing the war.

Are any of the grandparents available to coach you as you go through this difficult process? How about an aunt or uncle or an older couple in your church or social network? It’s sometimes helpful for extended family members to work together as a team. You’d be surprised how comforting it can be just to have grandma or grandpa present in your home during one of these extended crying bouts. Among other things, they can help soothe your nerves and reassure you that your baby’s behaviour is normal. They can also pick up on subtle cues that young parents sometimes fail to notice and help them break negative patterns.

Be consistent

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to persevere and be consistent. Don’t give up too quickly. Stick with it for several weeks in a row before deciding to try something different. The goal is for mom and dad to overcome their feelings of panic, to achieve a measure of calm and repose within themselves, and then to transfer that soothing influence to their child. This will mean working together persistently over the next couple of months. If you hold the course, eventually your baby’s nervous system will mature, your confidence will increase, and your home will be a little more peaceful.

© 2010 Focus on the Family.* All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission. *U.S.A.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Free advice on marriage, parenting and Christian living delivered straight to your inbox

View comments ()