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Your Brilliant Baby in Week 43: Demystifying Separation Anxiety

Baby’s Brain in Week 43

Your baby’s regular childcare provider has the flu, so instead of bringing him to the familiar home he knows, you’re dropping him off at a new drop-in center instead. As you reluctantly pass your child off to a stranger (who looks perfectly safe and kind to you), your child screams with fear.

You’re torn. Should you leave him? Will he scream the entire day—or worse, be traumatized by your abandoning him?

What the Research Shows

During a research study (called, appropriately, “the strange situation”), one parent-child pair after another was brought into a room equipped with toys. Most children were observed primarily playing with the toys alone, but from time to time each baby checked in with his or her mother. Then the situation changed: A stranger entered the room, and Mom left.

Across the board, all the babies exhibited some level of discomfort and distress when their mothers left. Some cried uncontrollably, others only whimpered. Once the crying subsided, however, the babies looked to the stranger for interaction. When the mothers returned, the babies showed a mix of emotions: anger because the moms had ever left and joy because they had returned.

Week 43 Brain Booster

This fear that your baby begins to exhibit between seven and nine months—which you’ll continue to witness through at least month 12—is referred to as separation anxiety, and it illustrates that he has a secure attachment to you. The irony of the situation is that because a child is well attached to his mommy, he’s learned to expect love, trust, care, and protection from others, as well. Once your child is over the insult that you left him, he’ll calm down and show an interest in the new folks around him. Depending on your child’s temperament (whether slow or quick to warm to others), he’ll eventually adjust to new people and situations—and you don’t need to fear that your baby will feel abandoned because he trusts that you’ll return. (And if for some unforeseen reason you don’t, he trusts and expects that another person will care for and love him as you have.)

Interestingly, this emotionally charged bond between you and your baby occurs about the time your child begins to crawl. Crawling takes your baby off in new directions: Baby must satisfy his need to explore while checking in periodically with you, his secure base.

When you pass your child to a loving, experienced childcare provider who is unfamiliar to your child, be sure to show confidence and approval of this person. Say something like, “Here’s Veronica. She’ll be looking after you today. She’ll play with you, feed you, and put you to bed. She’s a nice person who will take care of you until I come back tonight.” Your outward approval will show Baby—who’s especially dependent on social referencing right now—that she’s in good hands.

Your Week 43 Toolbox

Related skills and topics this week include …

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