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Just yesterday, your six-month-old baby smiled at everyone in the store. Today, she clings to you and screams when her Granny comes up to cuddle her. As soon as she loses sight of you, she starts to cry.

This is because your baby has reached a new developmental stage, referred to as separation anxiety. At this stage, most babies become afraid of strangers or people they don’t see often. They might cry, scream, reject other people and cling to you. This is often a difficult period for parents, who may feel judged by others. Being the only person accepted by the child can, quite frankly, become a burden and be irritating. In general, this stage ends when children are about two years old.

Why does my child react this way?

Little by little, your baby is discovering that he’s a distinct individual. When he comes to understand that you’re not an extension of himself, he realizes that you can leave without him.

At this age, the baby doesn’t yet understand that people continue to exist when he doesn’t see them. When you go away from him, he’s afraid he won’t see you again. So how can he calmly wait for your return?

As he gets older, he’ll learn that even when you’re not there, you still exist and will come back.

What can I do?

To help your baby cope better with moments of separation, you can:

  • Keep her near you when you’re at home. If you need to leave the room, wait for her to follow you or keep talking to her so she knows you’re close by and will be coming back.
  • If she reacts to the presence of people she’s less familiar with, reassure her by taking her in your arms. Kids get even more anxious when parents ignore their distress.
  • Let her know right away when you’re going away from her. This will reassure her, and she’ll gradually learn that you always come back.
  • Always use the same words when you leave and come back.
    When you’re leaving, say « Bye-bye, Emily. Be right back! » When you come back, say « Mommy’s back! » or « Daddy’s here! »
  • Give your child time to get familiar with the person who’s going to care for her when you’re away.

Remember that children can feel their parents’ stress. Although it can be difficult at times, try to stay calm and serene when you leave your child with someone else.

Easy to say but not always easy to do? A little help could be useful?
Find out about the Triple P activities that are offered near you.


Sources

MSSS. (2009). Les services intégrés en périnatalité et petite enfance. Favoriser le développement des enfants âgés de 1 à 5 ans. Guide d’intervention pour soutenir les pratiques parentales.

Naître et grandir. Les pleurs de bébé