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My 8-month old will hardly let anybody "new" pick him up, or spend time with him if his mother or I aren't present. His current nanny and one set of grandparents (which have spent a lot of time with him) are OK, but his other grandparents, uncles, aunts, and pretty much anybody else send him into a frantic bout of terrified bawling.

My mother wants to be able to babysit, and we're moving to a new daycare in a few weeks. I've tried giving my parents "alone-time" with him, so they can get used to each other; he calms down to a certain degree, but remains upset, clingy, and quick to cry, and he lunges at me desperately as soon as I return. He isn't any more welcoming after several days of a family vacation all together, or after this "alone-time". I'm worried that our attempts to get him used to someone else being with him are doing more for his anxiety than for his comfort.

Is this normal? Is there something we can do to help him adjust to new people? Is there anything we can do to smooth the transition to a new daycare?

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If there's any helpful points that I can clarify, just ask. :) –  Ziv Aug 26 '13 at 14:01

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Basically I remember when my daughter would be happily playing. Then I'd try to leave the room and... yeahIthinkNO. The emotions expressed ranged from "No" to "HOW DARE YOU SIR!"

Remember that below 2 years, their emotions are very immediate, there's no "It's just 5 minutes", they're unhappy now. Because of this, the gap between "Worst thing ever" and "Oh so awesome" is pretty quick.

Firstly, remember that when you leave him with other people it's as much for your benefit as his. A bit of self-care is a good thing, especially when the alternative is frustration at his own complete self-centred nature (You're tired? BABY CARES NOT). If you need a break, just take the break and relax. He's perfectly safe, it's just he wants you to do something else, and negotiation is for older children.

Secondly, this will get better. You have to remember that he's been basically in constant contact with about 3-5 people his entire life. All of you out of the room is a big shift, and it takes time to deal with. However, even as it gets better, he may not let you know. Our 15-month daughter still rages like a hellhound as long as we might be able to hear her. What we've found is that when we've left, she settles down, especially if someone's making an effort to entertain her (We've found the gap between "HOW DARE... Oh they've gone, okay let's play" is about 2-3 minutes). Confirmation that he's settled from people via phone is important for your piece of mind, make sure to ask for it. It costs them nothing, and really makes you feel better.

Thirdly, how you leave is important. It's always tempting to fuss, and you certainly don't want him unaware that you're going, but once you've committed to the bye, don't look back or try to calm him down, as it just makes your leaving a bigger deal. Very often, the fact that you're feeling guilty/upset about it (which is perfectly normal) is what's upsetting him, and as you can't fake being okay with leaving, just leave him with the happy people and go sob on the bus. If you ever want someone else to be looking after him, suck it up, wave bye-bye, possibly a peck on the cheek, walk out, and let your boy inform you of the unacceptability of this decision. Then stop at the corner to mope a bit.

Finally, it sounds like you're worried that he'll develop insecurities if you leave. While this is true at a very young age, and might be if he's already a bit insecure and not being given enough attention (e.g. very large nursery/daycare classes), nothing you are doing will make him a basket case. As long as you do come back, he'll get used the fact that you will come back. He may still be against you leaving, but that's a nice problem to have.

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All the answers I've received are terrific and very helpful. Selecting this one for the full package of encouragement, concrete advice, and thoroughness. –  Ziv Aug 28 '13 at 7:32

Unfortunately, this is kinda usual. Some kids are wide-open with everyone, and some are routine-driven and prefer just 'their' people. I have one of each: my daughter, who is now 5, still prefers Mama to EVERYONE. It was two YEARS before she'd let either grandmother hold her. The other one loves everyone and has never met a stranger.

For the older one, time was the cure. We'd leave her with trusted individuals despite the caterwauling. Sometimes she'd settle down after we left, sometimes she'd holler the whole time. YMMV. But repeated visits did the trick, so you're doing the right thing.

It's actually ok that he's all about the parents when y'all return. You want him to prefer his parents at this stage over most other people. And I'm sure the daycare has dealt with this a zillion times before; they should have tested strategies in dealing with separation anxiety and routine-driven children. Feel free to talk to them as often as you need to, both to share observations and to brainstorm solutions; if they aren't open to this, it's probably not the environment you want for your child anyway.

So do what you're doing: get him alone time with the people you want him to be with, communicate a lot with caregivers, and hang in there. This will improve with practice and repetition. And be kind to yourself; separation anxiety sucks for the parents too, and there were many times I'd cry after dropping off my kids at daycare and having them wail for Mama. Now, though, we're past that and they're fine and they know Mama is always coming back to get them.

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This is very comforting and encouraging to hear. Thank you! –  Ziv Aug 27 '13 at 5:32

My daughter entered the separation anxiety phase and stranger anxiety phase around 11 months. Now at 18 months she is still in the midst of it. Whenever we take her to the pediatrician's for a check-up she begins screaming whenever the doctor gets close to her. The doctor always smiles and says, "Well this is right where she should be developmentally."

I work outside of the home two days a week and my husband works outside of the home full time, so on two days my daughter is with a nanny who has cared for her since she was 3 months old. That didn't stop her from protesting whenever I left for a little while. When I looked into how to handle the transition, this was the advice I received. This advice is for a caregiver whom your child is already familiar with, such as your mother. For the new daycare I assume you are doing at least a half day trial run or something like that to ease your son in? If so then this will apply after he's eased in, not at first.

  1. Never sneak out. If you do that you teach your child that you might disappear anytime he isn't paying attention. This only makes the problem worse.
  2. Don't seem overly upset to leave yourself. It might seem like by mirroring your child's sadness you can calm him down, but what you'll actually do is send the message that you leaving is truly horrible. Do take a moment to acknowledge his feelings. "You're sad. You don't want Mommy and Daddy to go. You're sad. You want us to stay." Then take a minute to let him know what's going to happen. "But sweetheart we have to go now to [do whatever]. We will be back after your nap. Are you ready for a snack with Grandma? I think Grandma brought you [your favorite fruit]."
  3. Once you leave, do it quickly without lots of returning for one last kiss. If you keep coming back and back as your child cries you'll teach him to keep crying for you to come back.

I know these three bullet points may seem cruel, but at least in the case of the daycare your child has to handle the separation from his parents. Following these steps will help him to minimize the time when he feels anxiety over the separation.

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This is relatively common. Beginning about 9 months, my daughter started recognizing Mommy, Daddy, Mimi and Poppy (my wife's parents who live half an hour away and love babysitting), but while she was (and still is) smiley and even chatty with almost anyone else in the "right" circumstances (such as being held or in her stroller), if there is a good possibility that the other person might end up holding her, she doesn't like the idea of being exposed and away from Mommy and Daddy, and starts becoming clingy and skittish. If we hand her off while she's in this mode, it's a wail-fest.

She typically warms up to people who stay a while, especially if she is allowed to make their acquaintance on her terms (crawling over to them and pulling up after deciding they're not so scary after all).

Your son is very likely beginning a similar phase, and you're not allowing him sufficient time to get used to the idea of other people not being strangers. Similar to our daughter, it's not actually "alone time" he needs, it's "together time", with at least one person he's used to as a "home base" he can return to at any time if he feels unsafe. After a while, knowing you're around, he'll get to know the others in the room, and become comfortable around them at least for as long as he remembers them.

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For some kids it doesn't matter how long they are with a person, they won't warm up enough to want to be held as long as their primary caregivers are around. My daughter is that way. –  justkt Aug 27 '13 at 12:23

Agreed with most of the comments above. Once a child adopts a certain set of behaviors, it takes a lot of trial-and-error and patience to make adjustments.

My recommendation is the following:

  1. Move slowly - Your child clearly loves and wants to be with you. Any sudden shift will be disruptive. What you want to do is slowly increase the time. Test this with family members/nannies that are always there. While some people may believe that a quick transition is better (like ripping off a band-aid), slow and deliberate time helps the child transition because they can get used to it.
  2. Keep trying - A large part of parenting is learning to be persistent. This is because over time, consistency and structure is appreciated by children. My daughter wouldn't take the bottle for weeks, but we plugged away and eventually there was a moment of clarity where things just worked
  3. Provide Heads Up - Don't try to do everything yourself. It seems like you have a great network already. Get them to help. Provide them with expectations that your child needs time to transition and that they should keep be persistent, and to trying (see #2 and #1).

Good luck. Hope to hear the good news soon!

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