For the first few months of life, babies can not differentiate caregivers from strangers. When they cry, they can easily be calmed and comforted by any person who make them feel loved and protected, regardless of relationship. By approximately 6 to 8 months, infants can now identify their main care giver and realize that there is only one Mommy and Daddy. Thus, when the baby is offered by his parents to be carried by someone unfamiliar to him, the baby starts to cry, inconsolable by any person except his parents. This period of the baby’s development is called “stranger anxiety”.
As the kid begins to outgrow stranger anxiety, he would then have to go through yet another phase of social growth referred to as “separation anxiety”. Separation anxiety occurs when the baby, who has developed emotional attachment and security with his parents, feels stressed when his parents are gone. A baby can show his anxiety in many behaviors such as crying, shyness, clinginess, unusual silence, and unwillingness to interact with other familiar individuals around him.
Though separation anxiety is normal and temporary, the child need to be helped in some ways. Separation may be observed by the kid as a traumatic and distressful occasion in his life, which can have a lasting mental and emotional effect. Here are some techniques to alleviate a child’s separation anxiety.
For babies and toddlers:
1. If you plan to leave, schedule it right after the child’s nap or feeding. It is observed that babies are less susceptible to anxiety when they are full and fresh from a nap.
2. Acclimatize your infant by practicing separation for shorter durations and distances. A great example is when your little one makes an attempt to head off to the kitchen area and you are left in the living room, hold out for several minutes before going after him. By doing this, you are developing his feeling of independence.
3. If you are a working parent, have your child a consistent primary caregiver. It is very best that you leave your kid with a caregiver who can be there for your baby from infancy into toddlerhood.
4. If you must leave your kid temporarily under the care of a relative, it is better to ask your relative to come to your house, instead of dropping your kid off to your relative’s house.
5. Try to create a consistent “goodbye” habit (e.g. basic wave or a unique kiss) and tell him that you need to go and that you will be back again very soon. Avoid repeating your goodbye ritual every time you depart. This could only make your child more uneasy and insecure.
6. Most of all, maintain a calm, strong and positive attitude towards your baby each time you go away. Young children are highly sensitive to your facial expression and will understand from your tone of voice and gestures. Showing your child that you are also emotionally affected could only reinforce anxiousness in your kid.
For young kids:
7. Establish trust and security with your kid by honoring time commitments. For example, be sure to pick him up from day care or return home at the specified time. By doing this, he will feel that your word can be trusted, so that the next time you leave and say that you will be back, the kid should feel much less stressed because he is already convinced that you will actually be back as promised.
8. Make your child feel that you care about his feelings by telling him that you will miss him too every time you go away. Make an effort to explain why you need to leave him briefly (e.g. you need to go to work so your can buy him milk), but promise him that you should be back very soon.
9. Read your child with children’s story books that tell about brave characters, and cite those instances when he was courageous and has accomplished something independently just like the hero in the tale. Role-playing has a big effect in molding the child’s behavior.
10. When separation is set at a later date and you plan to have him taken cared of by a relative, it is very best to talk to your kid regarding it in advance. Help him prepare for that day by anticipating positive outcomes and telling him how you can be reached if necessary.
11. If possible, make a call and talk to your kid over the cell phone while you are away. Ask him how he is doing and tell him about feel-good stories. Hearing your voice could make him feel secure and less anxious.
Keep in mind, children will generally outgrow separation anxiety by age 5. By then, they are able to spend time in the absence of their parents with less stress and anxiety. Helping your child ease his separation anxiety will allow him to get exposed to the real world, to experience life to the fullest and to discover new things and horizons.
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