Do you suspect that your child is going through a patch of baby separation anxiety?
It's a healthy sign!
Plus, there are ways to make this phase go easier for all of you.
If you recognize some of the following typical signs of separation anxiety in babies, then yes, your parental instinct may be correct:
Needless to say that baby separation anxiety is hard on the baby and taxing and wearing for parents but hold out!
Separation anxiety is not only a phase that will pass; it's also a healthy sign in your child.
Your child is getting smart!
This need to closely bond with you lasts all through childhood but changes in character as your child grows older - see
attachment behaviour throughout the ages and stages of child development.
However, your baby is still so much in the 'now' that he or she thinks your absence is permanent. Your baby hasn't yet learnt that when you leave, you will come back.
• You can positively help your baby and ease his or her way through this normal but rough patch.
Your baby cannot be spoilt with attention and love, only grow. The more you give, the more your child will thrive!
When your baby observes that you react positively to his signals, your baby will feel this as an acceptance of him (the seed of a positive self image has been planted).
Also, quickly and consistently meeting your baby's need for attachment or parental bonding will help him build trust and confidence in people; 'Mom (help and comfort) is there if I need it!'
Autonomy and independence are highly treasured values today in our western society. For some reason these values are also thought to apply to babies: 'A good baby will sit playing by himself for a long time' or 'A good baby will fall asleep by him- or herself!'
These are common expectations. I had them. (If your baby lives up to these ideas, it's great, but don't expect it) - a baby is a baby and not an adult - besides, numerous practical studies of attachment theory have also demonstrated that baby dependence paves the road to natural and healthy child independence.
The more your baby clings to you, the more alluring it may seem to force feed 'lessons of independence' to your baby by ignoring your baby's needs.
It's completely natural to think this way (I know I did when things ran high), but you may not want to go there! Your baby isn't manipulating you. He or she really needs you to feel whole and secure.
But if you really have to leave to go somewhere at some point, which we all do, there are ways to prepare your baby for it:
A lovey or in the sophisticated language of psychology, a transitional object, is a treasured toy or a beloved item that will help your baby cope with your absence.
To some extent, a successful lovey will 'replace' you as a source of security when you're gone. For some children this is a great source of comfort, for other children, loveys are pointless.
Try it out and if it works, wonderful! Personally, I could never get my son permanently interested in one, but in my son's nursery I saw babies and even kids comforted by anything from pillows to teddy bears to small blankets.
Usually a baby lovey is soft and cuddly in order to imitate human physical closeness. But if your child falls in love with a spoon because it fits nicely into his or her hand, wonderful, seize the day!
As I mentioned, your child now has a firm grasp of separation but hasn't necessarily understood that things (you) will return. Games like hide-and-seek, peek-a-boo and where's-the-baby are said to help your baby understand that things go away and return.
For instance, you can put a cloth over your head or your baby's head and then suddenly remove it to your baby's great pleasure. Many babies love this game and don't feel their security threatened.
If your child accepts it, you may also experiment by quickly leaving the room while singing or talking so that you're out sight but can still be heard.
But don't force it - it's a game that requires acceptance from you child. Remember, you are doing it for your child, not the other way around.
My son liked the peek-a-boo games but I'm doubtful as to whether they had
any effect on his separation anxiety and I sure couldn't leave him happy on his own even if I was singing ... and it was in tune!
If you have the possibility of leaving your baby with familiar people this is great. But many don't have that option in the long run.
So if your child is starting day care or has to be cared for by babysitters, use your gut feeling as to who you entrust your baby to and try to make arrangements for a slow introduction period, perhaps a few weeks.
Be present the first couple of times and then initiate brief separation periods which you gradually make longer and longer; 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour etc.
Explain to your child what will happen; that you have to go but will be back later and say goodbye and then leave (your child may not understand your words now but will very soon).
It's important that your baby sees you leaving. If you sneak out thinking it will be easier on the child (and on you), chances are that you will make your child's baby separation anxiety even stronger. Your baby may end up feeling general anxiety because he or she may never know if all of sudden you decide to be gone.
What your baby needs now is to learn the simple pattern that you say goodbye, you leave, and you return later.
The longer you stay, the more you invite your baby 'to fight' in vain for your staying. Also it's painful for both of you. If it can be done, stay until your child is happily engaged in playing, then say goodbye, make sure your baby sees it, and leave.
If your baby is crying, (It took more than 1 year for my son to stop crying at my departure even though I knew he was being taken good care of) be strongly present with your child, explain what is to happen, what a wonderful a time he will have (positive preparation of your baby's consciousness), kiss and leave with a reassuring smile.
You are a mirror to your child - your child is so quick to suck up what you're feeling. If your child's sees you unhappy leaving him or her, then it may reinforce the separation anxiety: 'Mom (or Dad) is unhappy, something must be wrong. This situation is not good!'.
If you leave with your chin up (and yes, it's tough to see your child unhappy) you'll indirectly tell your child: 'Everything is ok!'
It's okay to stand behind the door and listen to how long it takes for your child to calm down. But stay cool, don't go in.
By going in, you indirectly tell your baby that his or her efforts are worthwhile ... today! But you can't always come back. This inconsistency will confuse your child and perhaps make his or her separation anxiety grow.
Even though it took more than a year for my son not to cry at my departure, I knew that his crying would only last a minute or two at the most. I knew that from listening behind the door and from what the day care staff told me.
One consistent companion you have when dealing with your child and baby separation anxiety, is your parental instinct, or in other words, your gut feeling.
I simply can't stress this enough!
If you sense something is not right with your choice of day care institution or sitter, don't ignore it.
Perhaps there is poor chemistry between your baby and the carer(s), perhaps the pedagogical strategies are unsuited for your child's personality or perhaps your child is extra sensitive and needs to be in a setting with fewer children to feel secure. There could be many reasons.
Have a good talk with the day care staff or babysitter - many professional cares are professional and as they spend many hours a day with your child, they often have a pretty good idea of why your child may not be settling in.
However, if you feel your care provider is not the right choice, you may want to seriously consider new childcare arrangements.
Separation anxiety in babies is tough on all involved, your baby needs you desperately, your partner may feel overlooked or useless and you may just crave two minutes by yourself.
But like everything else with kids, it's a phase, it will slowly lessen, change character, and pass.
Your Positive Parenting Ally,
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