Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Help Your Baby Be More Social

When babies reach about eight months of age, they may begin to show social anxiety and other fears. They have learned to tell the difference between the members of their family and strangers. They understand who takes care of them, and they are very dependent on their parents and caregivers.

What they don't understand is temporary separation. They understand what happens when you disappear from sight, but they don't understand that you will be back. In fact, each and every separation may be a dramatic production on their part. They simply can't understand or fathom the concept of time. You can't reason with an eight month old, so how can you make him feel more secure?

Now, obviously different babies react in different ways. Also, some babies may not show any evidence of social anxiety until they are older. Others may never show any evidence of separation anxiety or worry. Typically though, most children exhibit at least minor stress at the prospect of being separated from their beloved parent or other relative.

If your baby reacts with tears every time you leave her, you definitely aren't alone. Try to look at it this way. More than likely, you have been the prime caretaker of your child since she was born. You bathe her, feed her, rock her, change her, and comfort her on a daily basis. Is it any wonder that she is so very dependent on you? It is also easy to understand why separations are hard for her. After all, you might tell her that you'll be back in a few minutes or hours, but what does that mean to her? In her eyes, when you walk out that door, you are gone. She can't reason to herself that you will be back, even though you do come back every time.

Some babies are so attached to their moms or dads that they are very vocal about their preferences. Often, if a baby is extremely attached to his mother, he won't allow anyone to do anything else for him if she is around. This may result in hurt feelings for the father, but keep in mind that your baby doesn't understand how her actions affect you. In fact, the only thing that she does understand is how she feels at the moment and if her needs are being met. She really isn't interested in anything else.

Many times, fathers or mothers simply have to ignore a baby's howls of protest and do the best they can to soothe his hurt feelings. Obviously, one parent shouldn't have to do it all just because the baby favors that parent over the other one. In fact, how will the relationship between the child and the other parent ever develop if they simply give in to the baby's demands for his favored caregiver?

While it may be difficult to do sometimes, the preferred parent should let the other parent take charge of the baby's care on a regular basis. Even though your child cries for you to pick him up, feed him, change him, and bathe him, you should let your spouse do these things for him also. You may have to walk out of the room in order for things to settle down, but they will eventually settle down.

As your spouse becomes more adept at handling your sometimes demanding child, you both may notice a subtle change in the relationship. Not only is this good for your baby, but it is also good for your spouse to feel needed and useful. He or she needs to know how important his or her role is in your baby's life.

Do you have older children that can help with the baby? If so, this is a great way to help your child become more social, while at the same time teach the older sibling how to be more responsible. If you give your older child more responsibilities in regards to taking care of your baby, you are actually helping to forge a stronger bond between the two of them. Again, your baby may howl only for you, and there may come a time when you have to simply walk away from your child in order for someone else to take care of him. This isn't a bad thing, and you are actually helping your baby to grow emotionally.

It is unrealistic to think that there will never be anyone else to take care of your baby. After all, you and your spouse may want to plan a romantic evening, or you may go back to work. Regardless of the reason, you should be prepared for the fact that your child will not be happy when you leave her. It may be hard for you to leave her, also, after you look at her tear-stained face and outreaching arms. Remember, you can call and check on her, and when you do, don't be surprised to discover that she is just fine.

That's right. Children are remarkably resilient creatures. Even though they may act like any separation is the end of the world, they usually bounce back rather quickly. Now, if your baby has an extreme aversion to strangers, maybe to the point of embarrassing you, take heart. It could actually be a good thing that he doesn't like people he doesn't know. You won't have to worry about him following someone else, right?

Still, it can be a problem if those strangers are actually people whom you know, but your child doesn't. If you are one of those moms or dads who can't go anywhere without a child attached to your hip, you may be secretly crying out for help. What about the child who won't venture away from her parents to play with the other children in the park? Does this describe your child?

Yes, some babies are painfully shy, and they are actually afraid of strangers for no apparent reason. This can be difficult to deal with, but you can help your child somewhat. You may not be able to turn him into an extrovert, but you may be able to help him learn to adjust to time away from you, even if it is only in the next room.

When you do have to leave your child, try to be as upbeat and positive as you can when telling her goodbye. You can give her a hug, and you can even talk about all of the fun things she'll get to do while you are gone. If she is just a baby, she may not understand what you are saying, but she can understand your tone of voice, and that can make a difference. If you are stressed at the idea of leaving your child, especially if you are going back to work, you need to keep those feelings from her. It will be hard enough for her as it is without her seeing you upset, too.

In the same respect, when you greet your child after being gone, you should be just as happy. You want her to associate the separation with something positive instead of negative. While this may not help her with her separation anxiety, it will eventually teach her that the separation isn't a bad thing. As she grows and matures, she may surprise you by handling the situation better on a daily basis.

If your child is one of those children who hang back and watches the other children play without ever joining in, you can help her become more social. No, it won't happen overnight, but it can happen. It will help if you can let her spend time growing up with other children who are neighbors, children of friends, or relatives. If she grows up with these children, she will be familiar with them and not fearful of them.

Of course, there will be situations where your baby will be around new children. If he struggles with this, don't force the issue. Instead, help your baby gradually become more involved in his surroundings. When you go to a playground and he is glued to your leg, simply sit close to an area where other children are, but don't urge your child to go to them. Eventually, his curiosity may get the best of him, and he may wander over to them. If he looks back at you, just smile reassuringly, but don't make a big deal out of it. As time goes on and your child matures, he will more than likely become more social naturally, but until then, do your best to love and reassure him whenever he needs you to.

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