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Am I being a bad parent... by giving in to my son's separation anxiety?

One reader shares her experience with a clingy one-year-old – and three experts have their say.

EACH WEEK, WE hear from a reader who can’t figure out what to do about a tricky parenting situation. To get a balanced take on the dilemma, we ask three Irish parenting experts to weigh in.

From dealing with a picky eater to helping a toddler who relies on her bottle at bedtime, being a parent often means making a decision based on what’s best for your child, not what’s easiest.

This week, one parent is wondering if she’s doing the right thing by giving in to her son’s separation anxiety.

Have a parenting dilemma you’re struggling with? Let us know anonymously here and we’ll share it with our panel of experts.

This week’s dilemma

My one-year-old son has terrible separation anxiety. He often cries whenever I even turn to leave a room, and sometimes when I actually go he’s hysterical. Day-to-day, I just give in and bring him with me wherever I go. I was at a wedding recently (which I hoped would go smooth sailing) but he was so distressed from the moment I left that I had to come home.

We’re hoping to send him to creche in September, but at this stage I don’t think we’ll be able to. Am I being unreasonable by giving in to my son’s separation anxiety?

What the experts have to say…

You’re not being unreasonable at all. Until the age of about two years, babies don’t quite realise that they are a separate person. So when the awful reality dawns that they are separate and alone, it can be very frightening. This type of behaviour is your son’s way of trying to maintain his connection to you. Some babies fare better if they don’t realise their parent has left, as the idea of being apart is worse than actually being alone, so sneaking out coupled with distraction by the caregiver can help.

Other babies need to be reassured that you are still in existence even when they can’t see you, so their special photo album of you or something that smells of you can help. Games involving going away and coming back, craniosacral therapy or homeopathy can also help. I can assure you the day will come when your son will no longer have this intense need for you, so try to find the joy in being wanted if possible!

- Krysia Lynch, Maternity Care Expert at 

No, you’re not being unreasonable. However, you are certainly not helping by giving in and bringing him with you wherever you go. In order to help him with the separation anxiety, you need to be working on it for the day-to-day opportunities that present themselves. Creche will be difficult in September if no ground work has been done before then. Yes he will get upset, but in the long term this might help him.

If you have support from a partner or grandparent, get them to stay with him when you leave the room. This isn’t easy but the more he is exposed to you leaving and once he has a familiar person with him, hopefully this will reduce his separation anxiety. Make sure you start with short periods of time and build up from that. Also, have the person staying with him play games with him, ie use distraction. It’s not easy, but this ground work will hopefully help later on in his little life.

- Brian Purcell, Occupational Therapist.

You are not being unreasonable. It’s a very natural part of our baby’s development to get upset when they are separated from us, particularly at your little boy’s age. If
anything, it’s a sign of a healthy and strong attachment between you and your child.
Playing a simple game like peek-a-boo with your baby or young child can help them
practice that separation and reunion in a very gentle and immediate way. 

Regarding him starting crèche, although it fills you with dread not knowing how he
will manage, make the most of the early introduction days to allow him settle in
and when it comes to that first week, trust that the staff will care for your baby and he
himself has that ability to cope and build relationships with those looking after him.

- Aoife Lee, Parent Coach at @parentsupport.

So what’s the final tally? Is this reader being unreasonable?

Yes – 0

No – 3

Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

Have a parenting question you want answered? Let us know anonymously in our survey here or email us on and we’ll put it to the experts.

More: Am I being a bad parent… by taking my toddler’s bottle away at bedtimes?

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