Monday, February 17, 2014

Velcro Babies: Separation anxiety in the older baby

Around 9 months of age, babies come to an amazing - but alarming - realisation: their mother is not a part of them, she is a separate entity.

This huge leap in awareness is a total surprise. For nine months in the womb and around nine months out, the mother is just like some parts of the body: you can't always see them, but they are there all the time.

Realisation that in fact, the mother could abandon the baby at any moment is a huge shock. And leads to the only reassurance possible: constantly keep the mother in sight. Suddenly, baby is no longer content to lie awake in bed, play on the floor or even be held by other people unless her mother is in close physical and visual contact.

Strap on the velcro - where you go, baby goes too!

Charlie has been in the midst of this development stage for a while now. At ten months, she is working hard on walking and it won't be long until she moves to the next stage of management: following mum everywhere!

Because we knew Kaitlyn would have to return to work at some time in the second half of Charlie's first year, she and I have worked hard to cement a strong attachment between Charlie and I so being in my care without mum would be less distressing. This has worked just as we hoped - to the extent that Charlie applies the same separation anxiety to me moving out of sight as she does with Kaitlyn! Even when Kaitlyn is right there beside her!!

We have learned it is sudden, unannounced movement which particularly triggers the momentary distress and that making eye contact, saying bye bye and waving  allow her to prepare for the separation: even if just walking into the other room to get something. Talking to her from the other room is also helpful and reassuring.

Interestingly, Charlie is quite as ease with Kaitlyn leaving to go to work and sometimes barely interupts what she is doing when she returns! Provided she is either involved in - or unaware of - the moment of separation, being apart is not a problem.

Other developmental changes occur around the same time that are related to this awareness of being out of sight but not gone forever: Peak-a-boo becomes THE game for babies at this stage, so they comfortably see someone disappear and reappear over and over, learning this is normal and reliable. Waving bye bye reinforces people go away and waving hello that they return. And the awareness that something out of sight still exists means looking into bags, boxes and buckets for toys is meaningful - out of sight isn't out of mind.

Babywearing comes into its own during this stage if you wish to do anything without holding a baby who won't leave your side. Taking them with you when you shower, use the toilet, collect the mail, load the washing and all the other quick tasks you could previously leave them playing while you go, now only get done with them in your arms or at your feet.

It is a frustrating stage at times, but necessary for your baby to move into more independence as a toddler. Soon, that separation will be a bonus for your baby, because life becomes a lot more interesting when mum isn't constantly by your side!!

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