Dealing with 13-Month-old’s Separation Anxiety While He Is Away from Home

Updated on May 08, 2009
M.G. asks from Torrance, CA
11 answers

My 13-month-old boy and I are on vacation right now in my Asian home country where my and my husband’s family are based. Since we arrived 9 days ago, he has been glued to me and only me, refusing to be held by his grandparents, aunts and uncles. I anticipated this would happen because he has never seen any of them before, plus he had to go through jetlag and a bout of pneumonia the moment we got here. I am the only familiar thing left to him after everything he’s ever known was pulled from under his feet – his home, his toys, even the weather. What I didn’t see coming was how long this was going to stay this way!

We’ve been staying at my mom’s since we arrived, and our families have consistently been present to allow him to be familiar with them, since the only regular people in his life back in the states are me and my husband from the day he was born. But even after over a week, he still has a meltdown when I leave the room and when grandma attempts to pick him up, because he thinks I will leave him. This hysterics lasts as long as I’m away, even if that takes an hour. He plays with anyone and smiles and is sweet as long as I’m around, but the moment I show any signs of leaving, he cries and crawls/walks back to me and clings to me to make sure I don’t go anywhere.

How do I handle this? I’m so exhausted and now at my wits end, because the reason I came here earlier than my husband was so I can get a break (I’m a SAHM) from baby care, but it’s been the total opposite because this baby just won’t let me out of his sight. My husband, who is the only other person I’m sure he’ll go with, won’t arrive until a week from now, and I don’t know if I can last that long without going crazy!

How much longer is this level of separation anxiety going to take? Is it counter-productive if we just let him have his meltdown while his grandparents, aunties and uncles hold him, because he will associate them all with me leaving him? He has never been attached to any lovey we’ve tried to introduce to him – I and his dad are his only 2 loveys. How can I get him to comfortably stay with someone else without me in the room – or is that even possible? Should I surrender to the idea that I will never get a break before we go back home to the US in 3 weeks?

I would appreciate any words of wisdom. Thanks for your help!

What can I do next?

  • Add your own comment
  • Ask your own question
  • Join the Mamapedia community
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thank you so much to everyone who took time to reply to my questions - thanks for your advice and encouraging words. You are all so right, we (including my family) shouldn't expect him to warm up to everyone in a different "planet" within a week. We're going on our 2-week mark here and so far there has been some progress. He's ventured into a different room walking with someone else and played there even if he didn't see me, but as long as he could hear my voice, he was fine. I even got to use the bathroom! I'm hanging on alright now I guess, knowing that his dad is coming in a few days and looking at this whole experience more as a long adventure for me and my son.

Thanks again, everyone and have a great day!

Featured Answers



answers from Los Angeles on

He's just too little to understand what they call "object permanence" meaning if he doesn't see it, it doesn't exist for him. This is why they like to play "peek-a-boo." It is exciting to a baby that you are still there even if he can't see you. Hang in there mom, you can do it!

Edit My Answer
1 mom found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Los Angeles on

I think you are going to have to stick it out. I hate to say it, but if your son has NEVER been around anyone else and there is nothing familiar to him except you what did you expect? I think right now you can only make the best of it so instead of seeing your family as child care and you getting a break change your thinking to gettting to experience all of these new things with your son. It is exhausting to leave and come back to a distraught child so you may have to stick around until your husband gets there. Try to do as much as possible that you would do at home so he still has the same routine. Children are very comfortable with the familiar so being in a strange place with strange people (to your son) is very scary.

Also, What is your approach when you leave? Do you try to make a quit exit without him knowing? I have never had a good experience with that. Maybe try playing a hide and seek / peek a boo combo game with him and reassure him that mommy always comes back. do this for a couple days and communicate what you are doing. Say I'm going to go get this I will be right back and go out for a couple minutes and come back. Its something that has to be built up, not so sudden. YOU, mama, are this guy's whole world so of course he is a scared that he will never see you again. Hope this helps. Have a great (better) trip!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Considering the situation you have presented, there is no way you are going to change his behavior overnight. The good news is that you know he is firmly bonded with you. The longer you stay with your relatives, the more accustomed your son will be to them. This situation needs time and you may not have enough for him to get that sense of security he has with you. You might hold him and have him interact with one person you think might establish the best relationship with him in the short time you have. Perhaps little games, reading books, giving good to him. There is no easy answer to your situation. He has to establish a bond with someone besides you and his father and there is probably not enough time. Good luck and give it a try with the ONE person you select to interact with him.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

"Separation Anxiety" is not something finite..... it comes and goes per each age-stage.
At this age, it's what happens. BUT, keep in mind that separation anxiety will come and go and will be manifested in different ways, per the child's age-set.

Your child is in unknown environments now... so, its a matter of adaption too, in conjunction with their emotional/cognitive development....
It's hard for the Parent, but also hard for the child... they are going through a doozy. They can't help it. They do NOT do it on purpose.

PLUS he was sick... and being ill naturally makes a child more clingy. SO... for him, there are MANY different things going on at the SAME time.

It's just something that each child adjusts to differently, and per their personality and disposition and sense of security and trust.

Yes, he will and is, having a meltdown when he anticipates you leaving him, and when some "stranger" is with him, even if they are relatives. I would not 'force' him to handle it... a child this young does NOT have "coping skills" to handle emotions that they do NOT understand.

It may be a 'vacation' for you... but it is not for him. He doesn't know what a 'vacation' is. All he knows is he is feeling insecure... and I doubt that in 3-weeks he will be 'cured.' And he probably knows his Mommy is stressed about it... which just makes it worse. Kids can feel vibes.

The thing is.... his sense of "consistency" and regularity and routine... is non-existent now. Thus, his anxiety. Then, in 3 weeks, he will fly back home. He will need to adjust again... and to jet-lag too. 3-weeks for a young baby/child is either too long, or just long enough to get used to things... but by then, it will change again and he will be back home.

It can't be helped now. It is what it is, and he needs you and the comfort that only a Mommy can provide. OR, if you can handle it...and you REALLY need a "break", then you leave him with Grandma and go have a break for yourself, knowing that he will cry. Sometimes, this can't be avoided either, depending on your circumstances. Likening this "separation" to a baby who has to go to Daycare...

I don't have a concrete answer for you... just some ideas and thoughts. But, be aware that "separation anxiety" is not just something that goes away, and it does return at different ages and phases and per the cognitive/emotional development of a child. Even 4 year old kids who go off to school get separation anxiety. So keep "expectations" in line with their age-stage. Just as much as it is hard for the Mom... it is equally or even harder, for the child.

My own son is now 2.5 years old, and although very self-reliant/independent.. he is going through a "clingy" phase with me and just LOVES to always be attached to me. Literally. He just always wants to be attached to me like an extra appendage and climbs up on me like a little baby Koala Bear and he'll just have this HUGE happy grin on his face and just keep repeating "My Mommy.... Love Mommy...." Its hard but so cute... and I can't get 'mad' at him for it. And he even gets "protective" over me... if my daughter or others come near me, he will "sometimes" say strongly "MY Mommy..." and he'll put his arms around me & shush others away! He can't help it. Nothing has changed in his environment or our family... but HE is changing. It's purely developmental. I know it's a phase though. So it will pass, but who knows when.

Keep in mind ALSO... that the "bonding" of a child with their Mommy ALSO changes and ebbs and flows. All developmental based and per the child's own individual self.
One day, our kids won't even want to be near us or with us....

All the best,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

i know its frusterating but your baby is sick and someplace new. i flew with my daughter to washington to visit family when she was 8 months we were there two weeks she finally let someone else hold her 4 days before we flew home. since its just been the 3 of you your baby may not feel secure with so many people around. just try to concentrate on your son playing near them and with them while you are there with him. then after a few days of that then try to scoot away for a potty break while his attention is diverted. your baby is in a culture shock and is very unsure of whats going on and if youll be with him. i bet when your hubby gets there it will be a little easier because he will have mom and dad with him. good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

This is part of a old response I had given someone else. I hope it helps.
Give him lots of pictures of you and him and Daddy. He could carry them around with him. Put up pictures around the house ones that he can hold too. (safe) Maybe Daddy can e-mail him some pictures of you all. Can you us a computer to e-mail him where he can see Daddy talking to him? Hope this helps. God bless you and your family. Also let him know Daddy is coming out to visit him soon. I know he is little but maybe he will understand. Try and keep doing the same things you do at home. Like if you put him to bed with a book or singing do the same there. I have hugged my family that my son does not know. This seems to help him with getting close to them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

In your son's eyes, you have essentially taken him to another planet and you are the only person there from his home planet. Of course he is terrified without you. A week to get used to it is nothing. I think any child at the separation anxiety age, which he is, would need months to get used to it. I am not one to let a child make the rules, but you are expecting way too much from him at this point. If you leave him crying with a bunch of strangers in a strange place, you will likely end up with trust issues for quite awhile and he will be that much more attached to you, even when you get home. You may not get that break you're looking for, and his needs must come before yours right now.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Dear M.,
This is the age for separation anxiety and it probably doesn't help with all this newness around him. My girls are and were the same way and we see our family pretty regularly! Some kids it's just their personality to be glued to mom and dad and be weary of people they don' t know yet and even when they do know them kids are quirky we will never know why they aren't comfortable with certain people because by the time they are over it and can express themselves they won't remember that time in their lives. I know it can be tough just keep being patient and understanding and try leaving regularly just a couple of minutes at a time and coming back so he knows you are not leaving him. Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi M.! My 17 month old daughter was just like this. She has always been a momma's girl and didn't like being around anyone else. However, around 11 months or so she took it up a notch and would have complete meltdowns if I left her with anyone and on a bad day didn't like being in the arms of strangers (to her they were strangers) if I stepped out of the room.

While we did not travel overseas like you, I have felt your pain of being a stay at home mom and wanting a break. I'm so sorry you are going through this. I would say, if you are comfortable with leaving him for a short period, like 30 minutes and see how he reacts. Then maybe one or twice more. At that point you could decide if based on his behavior, whether or not you feel comfortable leaving him. I have found that my daughter was always upset when I left her, but even more so if I lingered around. If she was going to settle with the person I left her with, and she most of the time didn't, she would do it when I wasn't around. I would often be greeted with a wimpering baby the second she saw me. I guess that's their way of telling us they missed us?!

Anyway, maybe you can try this in a few days? Hopefully the more time that goes by, the more familiar he will be with his surroundings. I hope it all works out for you whatever you do! I know when my little lady is fussy, I feel fussy too! Lastly, I will tell you that for her, right around 15 1/2 months she all of the sudden decided that she was okay to stay with close friends and family for a couple of hours at a time. I hope that your little does the same for you! Hang in there!




answers from Reno on

M. G

You are a very insightful mom. Try leaving something of yours for your son to hold onto while you are away. He will adjust, don't get discouraged. As long as he knows you will be back he will be fine. Good Luck.



answers from Los Angeles on

I'd recommend taking small steps with your son. It's hard to reason with him b/c he is still pretty young, but you can start by having him play with you and someone else (grandparent, relative, friend...) and once you think he's comfortable, just take a step back and see what he does. If he's ok, then move away a little further. Hopefully, eventually you can be across the room from him and he'll still feel comfortable and safe. Then you can work on being in a different room. If he cries or runs to you, just stay calm and act like it's no big deal, usher him back to where he was playing and basically start all over.

Try not to worry about it, your son will be fine and, before you know it, he'll be asking for some privacy! When you're going through separation anxiety, it can be so stressful and you may feel like there is no end in sight, but it will get better.

My daughter, who will be 4 in August, was the same way when she was younger. She was always just with me and/or my husband so she'd freak out if we were gone. She's still fairly attached, and transitioning her to preschool was VERY difficult...clinging to my leg, crying until she barfed, etc. But I think it's partly her personality...shy and reserved. If you can, enroll your son in some activities where he's around more people (e.g., gymboree or my gym) or a playdate with other kids. That will help him open up and be more comfortable around others. Hope this helped. Good luck!

Next question: 1 Year Old VERY Clingy