Try to think about things from your baby's
perspective for a second: For most of your life she
controlled everything that happened in her world:
who and what came and went, how long they stayed,
what they did while they were there.
But lately her grip seems to be slipping. Things
seem to be coming and going all by themselves. And
the people she thought she could always count on to
be there for him have developed a nasty habit of
disappearing just when she needs them most. Even
worse, people she doesnt knowand
isnt sure she even wants to knowkeep on
trying to pick her up and take her away. The
Universe is clearly in chaos, and given the way
things are going she can't really be sure that the
people shes most attached to will ever come
All this, according to researchers Philip and
Barbara Newman, is what separation anxiety is all
about. In your babys mind, the best way to
put herself back in the driver's seat is to cry.
"That's it," she says. "If I cry, my parents won't
Here are some things you can do to help your
child manage her separation anxieties:
- Be firm but reassuring. Tell the baby where
you're going and that you'll be back soon.
- Don't say you'll miss him. He'll only feel
guilty that he's making you unhappy. He'll also
wonder why you would do something to
deliberately make yourself unhappy. And finally,
if you're sad or upset at leaving him, that's
what your baby will think is the appropriate
reaction to separation.
- Don't sneak away. If you're leaving, say
good-bye like a man. Tiptoeing away will
undermine your baby's trust for you.
- Don't give in to crying. If you're sure the
baby is in good hands, leave--with a smile on
- Don't force. Let the baby stay in your arms
for a while longer if he needs to and don't make
fun of him if he wants to bury his head in your
- Try to use sitters the baby knows. If you
have to use someone new, have him or her arrive
15-20 minutes before you go out so he or she can
get acquainted with the baby. Either way, train
sitters in your baby's bedtime ritual.
- Leave while the baby is awake. Waking up in
the middle of the night to a strange (or even a
familiar but unexpected) sitter can be
- Be patient. Don't trivialize the baby's
feelings about your leaving. You know you'll be
back; the baby isn't so sure.
- Play. Object permanence games (pages 000 and
000) help reinforce idea that things--and
especially people--don't disappear forever.
- Establish consistent routines. Doing things
on a regular schedule (such as dropping the baby
off at the sitter's immediately after breakfast
or reading two stories right before bed) can
help your child understand that some things in
life can be counted on.
- Develop a strong attachment. Singing,
playing, reading, talking together all help
build a strong, loving bond between you and your
baby and help her feel more secure, And the more
secure she is the less she'll worry about being
- Ask questions. You'll have a better chance
of finding out what your child is afraid of if
you do. For most kids, for example, being
alone--not the dark--is what scares them most.
So make sure your child has a toy or other
security object at night and, if she leave the
light on so she can see she's not alone.
- Give the baby plenty of space. If you hover,
she'll get the idea that you're afraid of
leaving her by herself and that there's actually
something to fear from being alone.
- Distract. Encourage independence by
suggesting that the baby play with his train set
while you wash the dishes.
- Relax. As discussed earlier, babies will
pick up on your mood--if you're nervous they'll
figure that they should be too.
- Let the baby follow you around. Builds a
sense of security and confidence that you're
there--just in case she needs you.
- Be gentle. Give your baby time to adjust to
new situations and people.
- Know your baby's temperament. If your child
has a low frustration tolerance, she won't want
you to leave her and may cry all day after being
separated. Your slow-to-adapt child won't want
you to leave either, but when you do, she'll
usually cry only for a few minutes. She may cry
again when you return, though, because your
coming back is as much of a transition as your
As hard as separation anxiety is for your child,
its really a positive (although frequently
frustrating) sign, marking the beginning of his
struggle between independence and dependence. It's
a scary time and you can see his ambivalence dozens
of times every day as he alternates between
clinging and pushing you away.
Not all kids get separation anxiety. Those who
have had regular contact with lots of friendly,
loving people will probably have an easier time
adapting to brief separations than those who have
spent all their time with one or two people.
They'll be more comfortable with strangers and more
confident that their parents and other loved ones
will return quickly.
©2008, Armin Brott
* * *
It's clear that most American children suffer
too much mother and too little father. - Gloria
nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott
is the author of Blueprint
for Men's Health: A guide to a health
Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for
New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First
Dad's Guide to the Toddler
Single Father: A Dad's Guide to Parenting without a
Partner and Father for
Life. He has written on parenting and fatherhood
for the New York Times Magazine, The
Washington Post, Newsweek and dozens of
other periodicals. He also hosts Positive
Parenting, a nationally distributed, weekly
talk show, and lives with his family in Oakland,
California. Visit Armin at www.mrdad.com
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