From the time that babies become aware of the world around them they begin to form important relationships with the people in their lives. They quickly learn that certain people are vital to their happiness and their survival. Babies don’t have the ability to understand how the world works, so they don’t know what makes these people appear or disappear, and when they are out of sight they have now way of knowing if their beloved people are gone forever. So to protect themselves from potential loss, babies crave the nearness of those they love.
Try to embrace separation anxiety as a positive sign. It’s perfectly okay — even wonderful — for your child to be so attached to you and for her to desire your constant companionship. Congratulations: It’s evidence that the bond you’ve worked so hard to create is holding.
Over time, your little one will learn that when the two of you are separated everything is just fine, and that other people are capable of meeting his needs. He’ll also learn through experience that you do always eventually return. It will take time, however, for your child to mature enough to reach this point. Until then, to help your child learn to understand, accept and deal with separation, try some of the following ideas.
PLAY THE “BYE-BYE” GAME
Most parents play “Peek-A-Boo” games with their babies. That’s a great way to show Baby that even when he can’t see you – you still exist. You can take this game to the next level – here’s how: Say “Bye-Bye” to your baby and duck behind a corner or a piece of furniture. A few seconds later pop out and say, “Hi Baby!” Play this game every day, and then use the same actions when you leave the room or when you leave the house.
AVOID THE IN-ARMS TRANSFER
It’s common to hand the baby over to the sitter on your way out the door. But this physical act can produce a lot of anxiety for your baby. To avoid this, make your exit when your baby is playing on the floor, or sitting in a swing or highchair. Have the sitter engage your child’s attention. Say a quick, happy good-bye. When you’re gone – that’s the time for the caregiver to pick your baby up. Then she’ll be the rescuer – this can help them bond while you are gone.
ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENT PLAYTIME
Many children wake up after a nap, or in the morning, and are content to look around, play with a toy or daydream. Without thinking it through, we act as if baby can never be awake and alone. It’s helpful to know that a baby or toddler can enjoy alone time and can learn to be his own best company. This is a lovely gift that you give your child. I suggest that next time . . . walk a little slower! Listen carefully– is she calling to you or fussing for attention? Or is she just waking up to her world and taking a few quiet minutes for herself? If Baby’s content then keep an ear on her, but allow her this independent play time.
AVOID SEPARATING WHEN POSSIBLE
It’s perfectly okay to avoid separation when your child in the midst of an anxiety stage. Some people will try to convince you that it’s important to force your child to deal with separations. But the truth is that no study proves that a child who is forced to face his fear head on will overcome it easier or quicker than one who is allowed to adjust on his own time frame. It makes sense to be respectful – and work with your child’s needs – to gently and lovingly nudge him towards the goal of independence.
Elizabeth Pantley is mother of four and the author of the now-classic baby sleep book,
The No-Cry Sleep Solution, as well as The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution,
The No-Cry Potty Training Solution and The No-Cry Discipline Solution
along with seven other successful parenting books. Visit her at pantley.com