Tag Archives: attachment parenting

How to Cope When Your Baby Has Separation Anxiety (AKA The Clingy Baby!)

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I remember it well. Just as you come out of the new parent fog, your baby sleeps a little more at night, you begin to think that ‘at last I might have this parenting thing sussed’, perhaps you’re about to go back to work, or consider leaving your baby for your first post baby night away…….and then it happens, all of a sudden your baby regresses back to newborn behaviour, your smiling, ‘happy to go to anybody’ little bundle is only happy in your arms. You can no longer even have a wee alone, the second you leave the room you hear your little one wail, if they’re mobile they crawl into the bathroom after you, clinging at your legs desperate for you to pick them up.

cryingWhat went wrong?

What did you do to create such a clingy baby?

Why is your little one so lacking in confidence that they need to be glued to you 24/7?

Why do they cry so much unless they are close to you?

It’s your fault……you must have done something wrong surely?

Only you didn’t, in fact you did everything right! Separation anxiety (AKA the baby who screams unless superglued to you) is a GOOD sign, yes I did say that, no I’m not insane – it’s a sign you’ve done a great job! In fact it’s one of the best signs you can see to show that you have raised a psychologically healthy, completely normal infant.

So why is it a good thing? To put it briefly when your baby is born they have no idea that they are a separate entity to you, as far as your baby is concerned you and he are one , in fact you may as well be your baby’s arm or leg, he sees you as such an integral part of your being. It takes quite a while for your little one to work out that you aren’t joined at the hip, that he is a separate being to you. This knowledge happens at around 6 to 18 months, peaking at around the 9 to 10 month stage.  It shows your baby is clever, intelligent and totally, totally normal and it shows you have done a great job as a mother, you see it is an indication that your little one has formed a secure attachment to you.

Last century several prominent psychologists spent a long term researching attachment theory, I’m going to be a bit lazy here and fill you in via YouTube

THIS is also a wonderful (in depth) summary of the origins of ‘Attachment Theory’ – in short the significantly important work of these researchers led us to the understanding we have today – that the beginnings of true independence and confidence in children stem from a secure attachment to the mother (or substitute mother figure) in infancy.

One of the best measures of ‘secure attachment’ is a very young child who is comfortable (to explore the world) in the presence of her mother and very upset when her mother leaves – the only problem is in our detachment parenting culture this is not seen as normal, it is seen as undesirable and ‘clingy’ behaviour, in many cases it is seen as a failing – a failing for the parents to ‘detach’ and grow a confident child. This couldn’t be further from the truth, just as the incorrect assumption made by society that “in order to create a confident independent child we must push them out into the world so they can learn we are not always there” is grossly incorrect too. True independence is not learnt through rewards, punishments and force, true independence stems from a loving, secure relationship with caregivers at a young age.

So then, back to your clingy 9 month old. Rather than being a cause for concern that you’ve done something wrong and will have a shy, clingy child living with you until their 30s, actually what his ‘clingy’ behaviour could be interpreted as is a way of him congratulating you “you did good mum!”. All of that considered I appreciate it would be nice to have a wee by yourself once in a while, so here’s a few ideas to help you to cope during the peak separation anxiety period whilst fostering the all important attachment your little one has created and allowing detachment at his or her pace.

hugsad1. Empathy – Understand what your baby is going through, understand that this is a normal phase of development, albeit a scary one, for them to pass through, they are not trying to manipulate you or “wind you around their finger”, if you parent with empathy during separation anxiety not only will your child be more empathic and confident themselves when they are grown, ultimately parenting will be easier and more rewarding for you too.

2. Understanding – Not just from you, but from those close to you. Despite research into attachment theory being prevalent in the 50s and 60s (the era our parents were most often born) the results of this research didn’t really filter down into mainstream parenting, thus our parents probably parented in an entirely different way that involved us “needing to learn to be independent”. It’s hard parenting in a way different to your own parents, particularly when they (and health visitors of a similar age) offer us advice along the likes of “Just leave him to cry a little bit, it won’t kill him, he has to learn he can’t have everything his own way all of the time.”

3. Consider the timing for your return to work – Many mothers book their return to work at around 7 to 10 months, thinking that their babies won’t be tiny any more, will probably be weaned onto solids and thus not so needy of the mother, in fact this is probably one of the worst times a mum can return to work, but it is so common! Consider the possibility of pushing back your return to work by a month or two if possible.

4. If you do have to return to work, consider the impact of attachment on your child, it has long been suggested that one on one care in a home setting from a nanny or childminder is psychologically more healthy  for a baby, it allows the child and caregiver to foster a good bond and to help the baby to cope with separation anxiety in a way that will lead them to be more confident as a child.  Attachment Childcare UK is a wonderful organisation that offers a free listing of childcare professionals who subscribe to the principles of attachment theory.

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Consider postponing a move to the nursery or out of the parental bed. We all know 6 months is the recommended minimum to keep our babies in our bedroom in order to reduce SIDS risks, keeping your baby in with you for a little longer can also help them to cope with separation anxiety too.

6. Build secure attachments with other people – Pretty much covered in point 4 above, but the secure attachment doesn’t just have to be with mum, it can be with dad, granny, grandad, babysitter, nanny or childminder! You just need to build the secure attachment before separation anxiety exists

7. Help your child to feel as ‘close’ to you as possible, some parents give their child an item of their clothing to hug, a muslin spritzed with their perfume or even a photograph of themselves to carry around. Some even record their voices, talking to their little one or singing a lullaby.

8. Donald Winnicott spoke widely about ‘transitional objects’, or what you and I would know as ‘comfort objects’. Teddy bears, dummies, blankets, ‘lovies’ or any other object which a child can use to transition from complete dependence to relative independence from you.  First Mummy or Daddy sleeps with the comforter to transfer all their comforting scents onto the comforter. When introduced to your baby/toddler,the comforter helps to create a cosy safe environment for your little one to drift off to sleep whilst still feeling the closeness of you. Just make sure you have more than one in case one gets lost!

 

9. Try to keep the rest of your life as constant as possible, nine months is not the greatest time to go on holiday for instance, or start a trial session at nursery or the gym crèche.

10. Be kind on yourself whilst your baby is experiencing separation anxiety. This is the real key, the key to surviving this period is you.  You can’t do much to speed your baby through this stage, nor can you stop them from feeling totally normal feelings, but what you can do is change how you respond. In order to respond with compassion for your baby you need to nurture yourself. Sleep when you can, enlist help from people your baby already has a secure attachment with, even if it is just for them to sit cuddling your baby for an hour whilst you soak in the bath, ask people to prepare meals for you, consider temporarily employing a cleaner or somebody to do your washing and ironing for you (using our local laundarettes service wash was a Godsend for me during this phase with my children!). Find something that helps you to mentally relax – yoga, relaxation CDs, running, reading a good book and know that “this too will pass”.

The easiest way to survive separation anxiety is with the help of your family and friends, this is the key – as summed up so well by the father of attachment theory – Bowlby – himself:

“Just as children are absolutely dependent on their parents for sustenance, so in all but the most primitive communities, are parents, especially their mothers, dependent on a greater society for economic provision. If a community values its children it must cherish their parents.” (John Bowlby, 1951)

Sarah (Mum to Four, Parenting Author and Founder of BabyCalm Ltd)

You can read more of Sarah’s articles HERE.

“Why don’t you ever put that poor baby down?” and How to Deal with Babywearing Negativity.

A huge thanks to Anne McEwan from Natural Mamas for this guest post:

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Carrying your child in a sling has many well documented benefits yet it often seems that society is still playing catch up. Parents using slings report negative reactions from friends, family and even complete strangers. Being told that a choice you are making for your child is wrong can be hard, especially if it is a choice that feels so right for you.

Why the negativity? 

When deciding how to deal with negativity to your choice to carry your child in a sling – or any parenting choice- it can be useful to consider why they feel the need to express the negativity in the first place. The vast majority of comments fall into these two categories:

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1) That is not what I did/would do and I feel judged by you or think you are crazy 
Regardless of whether you intend to judge someone else for not carrying their child, some people will allow their own insecurities to coax them into putting down your choice. Remarks from these people are often phrased in a ‘I could never do that’ or ‘It never harmed mine to go in a buggy’ way.

2) Lack of understanding 
Just very simply a lack of understanding as to why you would want to carry your child. Sometimes people react with ridicule to something that they have not encountered before as a way to hide their lack of knowledge. ‘Look at that woman with two heads’ or ‘can you not afford a pushchair’ are ways in which this can be expressed.

What can you do? 

The first thing you can do when you are approached in a way which feels negative to you is to examine whether it was meant to cause upset, is a misunderstanding or someone suffering from a case of foot in mouth syndrome.

It is possible for someone to say something which was meant in a very innocent way but which comes across as negative to you. By taking a step back and asking yourself whether you are being over sensitive you can gain an extra insight into the situation rather than going into defensive mode straight away.

If you have established that it was not merely an innocent remark you can then decide whether and how you want to respond. A teenager passing in the street may not be worthy of any response since it does not matter what they think of you, whilst a negative remark from a family member can have a much bigger impact.

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Tried and tested responses
These are some tried and tested responses to negative remarks. Choose the one that suits you and your situation best or have fun making up your own!

‘I love carrying him it makes both of us happy.’ 
The truth and nothing but the truth. So many reasons to carry but this is the most important of all and really it is also one that people should just be able to accept.

‘Carrying her is so easy. I wish slings like this had been as easily accessible when you had your babies.’ 
This one is great for those who you feel may have wished they had carried their children. It works in two ways. One, it gives an excellent non emotive reason for carrying and two, it empathises with them and expresses a wish that they would have been able to do the same.

‘I am sure carrying him has made him so much more confident, just look at how he loves to play with his train. Do you mind looking after him while I go and make a drink.’ 
If you feel that the person expressing the negativity is worried that they will not get to interact with your child in the way they had imagined, this can be a good way to redirect their attention. Please note that using this technique with a child who will scream when you leave their sight is probably counter productive…

‘Do you know I burn a lot more calories carrying her. It is great exercise and my back has never been stronger.’ 
A concern for the carriers back is often borne from an inability to understand how a soft sling distributes the weight evenly over your body. They imagine themselves carrying a child as heavy as yours and simply cannot imagine being able to do so.

‘Have you seen his latest trick? He can blow bubbles.’
Sometimes it is not worth your breath arguing or trying to explain. Focusing the attention on your gorgeous baby can then be the least confrontational way to move forward. After all, regardless of what they think, you are doing what you believe is best for your baby and as his parent you are in the ultimate position to make those decisions.

For some great independent advice on slings and babywearing see www.slingguide.co.uk 

Anne McEwan – Babywearing consultant and educator.
www.naturalmamas.co.uk The home of natural parenting.