Reprinted with permission from the author.
Here are some ideas that may help make things go smoother when baby is going through a separation anxiety stage:
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- Be calm and consistent.
- It helps to create a good-bye ritual – give hugs & kisses and then say good-bye – and GO. Don’t come back (it makes it worse for baby and you)– just go.
- Separation/return games, and short practice separations are quite helpful. If baby is not comfy with Dad or another caregiver just yet, try playing games with baby, like peek-a-boo and “Where’s the baby?”
- You can play peek-a-boo with baby’s feet: With the baby lying on his back, lift his legs so baby’s feet hide your face (body is in an “L” shape), and then say, “Peek-a-boo!” as you open the legs wide & “peek” through the baby’s feet. Most babies catch on to this really quickly and love to open their legs themselves to “find” you.
- When you play “Where’s the Baby?”(or “Where’s [baby’s name]?”), you drop a lightweight cloth (receiving blanket, hand towel, cloth diaper, etc.) over your baby’s head, ask, “Where’s the baby?” and pull the cloth away, grinning and saying, “There you are!”
This is a game most babies LOVE! They usually have a blast pulling the cloth off and laughing. You can put the cloth over your own head, too. Taking the game one step further, you can partially hide behind a chair or around a corner where you will be easily discovered. To incorporate Dad, take the baby and say “Where’s Daddy?” and he can peek out, or you can “sneak” to find him. Then as baby relaxes and enjoys the game (knows what’s coming), DAD can take baby and find you. Then later, when you have to go, have Dad play this game with baby “one on one.” You can also incorporate hiding and finding toys.
- You can use “practice separations.” Tell your baby that you will be going to another room and that you will be right back (even though baby will not understand the words yet); i.e. “Mommy’s got to potty– be right back.” Then have Dad stand outside the bathroom door and play “Where’s Mommy?” They can also call Mom… “Moooommmmmyyyy?” ( soft and gentle question) and then “Where’s Mommy? I hear Mommy!”… and then YOU talk to baby through the bathroom door. Once you open the door, you can say something like “Hello!” or “There she is!”. (Note: “Bye-bye” is one of the first words most babies learn. It can be good to teach them “Hello” too!)
- Prior to returning to work, practice being apart from each other, and introduce new people and places gradually. If you’re planning to leave your child with a relative or a new babysitter, then invite that person over in advance so baby can get to know that person and feel comfortable. It’s also good to have a week of “dry run” (two, if possible), where you start out with 1/3 day (a couple hours) then a half day, then, when it’s time, the “full day.” This gives baby and you time to adjust and also to work out any kinks that may arise.
- If Dad is going to be the caregiver, have him take over some of the care of baby beforehand: bathing, reading a story while you hold baby on your lap (you want to make it a gentle, gradual transition when possible), or going for walks in the stroller. If you go to the mall, give Dad the stroller with baby, and practice walks and brief separations from Mom (i.e. go behind clothes and play “peek a boo” a few times). Have Dad put baby in the high chair and offer snacks, a cup of water, etc. As Dad gets more “hands on” with baby, baby will accept that he’s okay to offer care while you are gone.
- For brief dates out with Dad, have Grandma or another friend or relative come over for several days in a row for a couple hours, or take baby there to visit, so baby “knows” this person ( they are not a complete stranger to baby). Do short runs first (i.e. 30 min or so), then graduate to a longer time away. Breastfeed JUST before leaving, kiss baby and go. Things WILL be okay.
- Baby’s favorite items, blankets or stuffed animals, can help baby feel more secure, too.
- Keep in mind that separations are harder on your baby if he is tired, hungry, or sick. Whenever possible, try to time separations when your baby is happy, awake/alert, and healthy.