Attachment and Separation Anxiety

Attachment System

  • All babies are born with an attachment system in place for survival.
  • Attachment is “any form of behavior that results in a person attaining proximity to some preferred individual, who is conceived as stronger and/or wiser”
  • Infants and children who maintain proximity to their caretakers are more likely to survive and thrive.
  • Infants and children seek their parents particularly in times of distress.
  • When the caretaker is readily available, the child feels secure and can use the caretaker as a safe base

Secure Attachment

  • At least 50% of people are securely attached
  • Good enough (not perfect) mothering leads to security of attachment.
  • According to research, people with secure attachment style have a sense of being lovable plus an expectation that other people will be accepting and available to support and comfort them as needed.
  • Their parents appear to have been supportive, warm and accepting.
  • Such individuals possess a secure base from which to explore the world.
  • When a child has a secure base, that child feels free to explore the world, knowing that it is possible to return to a place of safety.


  • Turn to the person sitting next to you and share one quality of yours that makes you a good mother.

What Is a “Good” Mother?

  • As long as you are responsive to your child’s needs (and trust me, you are), you are a good mother.
  • Your child will internalize a model of your caretaking as a representation of the world and relationships.

Development of Normal Fears
A chart by: Garber, Garber & Spizman :

  • 0-6 months Loss of support, loud noises
  • 7-12 months Fear of strangers, fear of sudden, unexpected and looming objects
  • 1 year Separation from parent, toilet, injury, strangers
  • 2 years A multitude of fears, including loud noises (vacuum cleaners, sirens/alarms, trucks and thunder,) animals (e.g. large dogs), the dark, separation from parent, large objects/machines, change in personal environment
  • 3 years Masks, dark, animals, separation from parent
  • 4 years Separation from parent, animals, dark, noises (including at night)
  • 5 years Animals, “bad” people, dark, separation from parent, bodily harm
  • 6 years Supernatural beings (e.g. ghosts, witches, “Darth Vader”), bodily injuries, thunder and lightning, dark, sleeping or staying alone, separation from parent
  • 7-8 years Supernatural beings, dark, fears based on media events, staying alone, bodily injury
  • 9-12 years Tests and examinations in school, school performance, bodily injury, physical appearance, thunder and lightning, death, dark (low percentage)


  • Children learn from those around them including fears
  • Separation is a natural occurrence and is ok
  • If you model that separation is a natural, ok part of life, your child will respond to that message.

Dealing with Separation

  • Provide a quick hug and verbal reassurance that you’ll be back soon
  • Keep your tone of voice neutral
  • Ask the teacher or care giver to engage your child in an activity and leave quickly
  • Greet your child enthusiastically upon your return

How To Deal With Separation

  • Keep in mind that your child will take your cue.
  • Think about your own history of separation and attachment to your parents.
  • Mindfulness of your own feelings can be very helpful.

Separation Tricks to Minimize Separation Anxiety

  • Practice separation. Leave your child with a caregiver for brief periods and short distances at first.
  • Schedule separations after naps or feedings. Babies are more susceptible to separation anxiety when they’re tired or hungry.
  • Develop a “goodbye” ritual. Rituals are reassuring and can be as simple as a special wave through the window or a goodbye kiss.

MORE Separation Tricks to Minimize Separation Anxiety

  • Keep familiar surroundings familiar. Have the sitter come to your house. When your child is away from home, let him or her bring a familiar object.
  • Have a consistent primary caregiver. If you hire a caregiver, try to keep him or her on the job.
  • Leave without fanfare. Tell your child you are leaving and that you will return, then just go—don’t stall.
  • Reassure your child that he or she will be just fine.

Separation Anxiety
How to know if there is a problem:

  • If separation anxiety is excessive enough to interfere with normal activities like school and friendships
  • lasts for months rather than days, it may be a sign of a larger problem.
  • the intensity of your child’s fears… such as may become agitated at just the thought of being away from mom or dad.

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