At around 8 months old, your baby’s nature can suddenly change – and in quite a spectacular way: whereas he used to be sociable, smiled a lot and enjoyed being carried by lots of different people, he now seems shy, cries easily around people he doesn't know and can't bear it when you are out of sight. These behavioural changes are quite normal and are no cause for concern: it is all part of a key stage in your baby's mental development, and is referred to as the “8-month crisis", "fear of the unknown" or "separation anxiety". Your baby is just growing up! Get our tips for handling the situation as successfully as possible.
HOW DO YOU RECOGNISE SEPARATION ANXIETY?
- Your baby finds it hard to leave your arms: he screams, cries or protests when you try to put him down and even more so when you disappear from his field of vision, even if you have only gone into the next room.
- When an unfamiliar person approaches, your baby does not smile. On the contrary, he shows signs of anxiety or even bursts into tears. His panic increases even more if this person talks to him or wants to kiss him or pick him up.
- Your baby is ill at ease in unfamiliar or little known surroundings. He may also become afraid of the bath, as the water may suddenly appear as a strange environment.
- Falling asleep becomes more difficult and he wakes up more frequently during the night. Your little one wakes up crying and only calms down when you hold him in your arms.
WHAT IS THIS CRISIS ALL ABOUT?
- While it is painful for him, separation anxiety is a sign of the correct mental development of your baby : he is simply beginning to understand that he and his mom are two different people and that he can thus be separated from her. It's an important step towards becoming independent, but this sudden awareness is also very distressing… When you are away from him, your baby fears losing you forever because he is not able to imagine that you are going to come back: anything outside of his field of vision simply does not exist to him. In addition, he does not yet have a notion of time: an absence of only a few minutes can seem like an eternity to him. The feeling of abandonment he feels when you move away from him can thus be very strong.
- This "crisis" is also a sign that your child is learning the difference between people close to him and other people. He distinguishes the intimate and reassuring family circle from the potentially threatening outside world.
- The intensity of separation anxiety varies greatly from one child to another, and some babies do not even seem to experience it: they remain sociable and are quite happy to continue being held by one person or another. If this is the case with your baby, do not worry! Separation anxiety is not an obligatory phase: each baby has his or her own character and develops in their own special way. Hence, very often, babies used to living in a group (such as a nursery) may find it easier to get through this phase.
HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR BABY?
- Reassure him as much as possible, without considering his tears as "tantrums" : his anguish is real and he needs contact with you to overcome it. Hold him in your arms and cuddle him whenever you have the opportunity to do so. Tell him repeatedly that you love him and will always be there for him. When you have to leave him, explain to him that it is only a temporary separation: "mummy has to go but she'll be back soon".
- In the presence of unfamiliar people, respect your child's fears: take your time in presenting the people around you to your baby and give him time to observe them at his own pace. Never put him directly into the arms of a stranger.
- However, do not cut him off from the world: get him used to seeing different people while remaining safely and reassuringly cradled in your arms.
- If you have to absent yourself, leave your child with someone he trusts: his father, in particular, can play an important role during this difficult period.
- If your baby does not have a security blanket, you can offer him one: a piece of clothing, a soft toy or a small scarf impregnated with your odour should enable him to cope with being separated from you more easily. This transitional object may become very important to your child: be careful not to lose it!
- Play a game of "peekaboo - I'm hiding"! by hiding yourself behind an item of bed linen or a door and then reappearing. Most babies love this game which enables them to get used to the idea of your absence and gradually understand that you will be together again after having been separated.
- Never sneak away from your baby without telling him you are leaving and that you will be coming back.. For example, if you have to leave him in a nursery or with a childminder, do not try to creep silently away but explain to him that you will be back to pick him up at the end of the day.
- Wherever possible, avoid changing your child minding method during this period: this is not an ideal time to start leaving him in a nursery or looking for a new childminder.
- Also try to avoid long absences: try to wait a few months before planning a holiday without your baby.
- In all cases, separation anxiety is a transitory phase: as the weeks pass your little one will begin to build his own identity and accept to exist without you. Be patient : in a few months he will be smiling again to all those around him and he will be able to cope with your absences in a much calmer manner!