Helping Your Child With Independence and Separation
Here are some tips to help you and your child as she moves along from the very dependent state of early infancy to the growing independence and separateness of the toddler. These suggestions should help you and your baby through the many separations that are a part of everyday life. By around 5-8 months you may notice that your baby is beginning to get upset when you move out of her sight or she may cry when you leave her with a familiar baby-sitter. By around 5 months, babies begin to put it together that Mom and Dad aren’t just a part of them.
There’s a “me”, (baby), and there is Mom and Dad, and there are other people too. You can see that now when you are out of sight, it suddenly feels to her that she is all alone– that’s a feeling she may not have had before– and it makes her frightened. Many babies become shy around strangers at this time. A familiar baby-sitter may remind her that you are going to leave. And now she’s beginning to realize that she can’t do anything about it. That’s when she cries and expresses her distress. There are a few things that will help. For a while, as often as possible, take her with you when you move from room to room. But talk to her about what is happening. When you pick her up you might say, “I’m taking you to the kitchen with me”. Then when you get to the kitchen put her down and go about your business. You don’t really need to play with her all the time. She won’t understand your words but babies get the idea when parents explain what is happening. It’s like you are talking to her as a separate person and the two of you are doing something together. She’ll begin to grasp that when you go away into another room she’s still connected to you, and that will calm her.
There are times when children become more worried about separation and times when they are less so. It is helpful for your child to keep developing her understanding that you go away and come back. It helps build her tolerance of being separate from you. But when you go it’s important to leave her in a place that’s familiar to her. Likewise, it is very important to talk to her about what you’re doing or going to do and when you will be back. For instance, you might say, “I’m going to the market and you’re staying with daddy, then I’m coming back”. When you return, you can show her what you bought. Make a point of letting her know you’ve returned by saying, “I went away to the market” and emphasize, “now I’m back again”. The more you put into words the better. A special blanket is very helpful as babies try to master separation. When you leave you can give it to her. It’s a reminder of you and it makes her feel that you are close by. Another thing that can be helpful is playing peek-a-boo. It’s a way of practicing the feelings of someone disappearing and coming back. Kids love it. With the game, they can turn it around and be the one to make you disappear and come back too.
It’s not unusual for a baby to protest when mom leaves and dad takes over. It may hurt dad’s feelings but it helps if he realizes that this protest too is a way of mastering separation from mom. It’s perfectly normal. At around 8 months babies begin to really catch on that they and their mothers are really separate people. So when mom leaves it feels like she is really gone and it doesn’t seem to help that dad is right there. It’s sort of an anxiety and it begins with feeling really separate from mom. Dads may feel rejected but it’s perfectly normal behavior. In general, babies do have a tighter bond with mom until they get through this phase. It generally does not last that long and before long your baby will be reacting pretty strongly when dad goes away too. It will help if mom gives advance notice before she leaves. Twenty minutes or so before leaving, mom can tell him she’s going bye -bye and daddy will be with him. It may upset him when he realizes what she means, but after a couple of times he’ll handle it better.
When babies begin to crawl and walk, anxiety may crop up again. Just crawling away and looking back across the room to see if mom or dad are still there is a very big development. Walking allows your toddler to see the world from a new perspective. It’s a time of pleasure in beginning to be ones’ own person. However it’s very important and necessary that your toddler check back with mom or dad to “refuel” before taking off on that next adventure. And remember, all of this is a part of your child becoming a separate person. It is a step forward for him. If you would like guidance on this or any other non-medical child development question, and you live in the Los Angeles area, you can call the Warm Line free of charge at 310-310-8646. A child development specialist will return your call within just a couple of days.
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