Question: My daughter is definitely a happy-go-lucky 8-month-old. She’s always smiling and laughing with everyone—except me. Every time she sees her mommy, she starts crying. I really don’t understand why she does this. What am I doing wrong?
Answer: While it is understandably confusing why your 8-month-old seems to cry when she sees you, I first want to encourage you not to take it personally (which I realize is easier said than done when your own beloved baby seems to want nothing to do with you!). While it’s hard to say exactly why your daughter seems to cry when you’re around, you are by no means the first parent who has had this happen, and I can assure you that the odds are in your favor that this unsettling behavior will be short-lived.
In order to help you better understand what your 8-month old may be thinking and feeling, I figured it would be most helpful to go over what we know about babies’ social, emotional, and cognitive development at this age. What strikes me as perhaps the most relevant to your situation is the fact that sometime between 6 and 12 months, separation anxiety becomes a significant issue for some babies. I like to reassure parents that while the appearance of separation anxiety can admittedly be challenging and frustrating, it signifies that their baby has developed a higher level of awareness of what’s going on in the world around them. This important skill often takes place at the same time as babies start to get a sense of object permanence—searching for toys (and people) that are out of their sight and beginning to understand and be entertained by games such as peek-a-boo. While separation anxiety most often involves babies becoming upset upon separation from a parent or close caregiver, I have also seen young children start to cry upon return to a parent—a response which I consider to be a cry of relief upon realization that parents really do come back after being away.
The other developmental change at this age that may be relevant to your daughter’s behavior is that babies by about 7 months of age become much more skilled at reading other people’s facial expressions and emotions. If you find that you are upset, distressed, or even just more tense around your daughter now that she has taken to crying when she sees you—she may pick up on your emotions and respond accordingly by crying.
What you should remember is that you are fortunate to have a happy-go-lucky baby who is developing nicely when it comes to being social, expressing emotion, and interacting with others. Instead of being confused, I suggest you try to relax, enjoy your daughter’s developing skills, and reassure yourself that she will soon get past the stage she is in, especially if you simply continue to offer her your warm and loving support.