Q: My 11 month old daughter always needs me to be beside her. If I leave her alone, she sits idle and waits for me. I don't see her discovering new things. I get so frustrated that she does not have the zest to do things by herself. I tried to encourage her but all she does is cry. The problem is that she is so used to me teaching her to do stuff that she is not doing anything by herself. Help!
A: Dear sumati.rajan:
Normal children between the ages of about 8 to 18 months are often very sensitive to the presence of mother and fearful of strangers--sometimes even fearful of other members of the family. If the mother of a child in this phase of anxiety tries to pull away and push the child to be "independent," the child may develop a constant worry that mother is trying to escape. The more the mother tries to tear herself away, the more the child will constantly do everything in her power to keep mother nearby. This can become a rut. The child becomes focused on hanging on to the mother who seems to have one foot out the door, rather than exploring the world on her own.
I would put aside the idea of trying to teach your daughter to do things by herself. I would adopt instead the simple goal of BEING WITH your daughter and of enjoying things that the two of you can share. She can gradually learn to become interested in play on her own when she feels more secure that you are right there, able to look up and to join her play from moment to moment. She can become more interested in her environment when she feels that she can take it for granted that you are present, all along. You do not need to be actively entertaining your daughter all of the time; she probably does not require your full attention at all times so much as she needs to feel secure that she can have your attention at any moment, should she want it. At this time, you face a paradox: she needs you right there in the background in order to take the first steps towards developing her own curiosity about the world.
There are, in addition, many things about your situation that are not clear to me--are you alone with your daughter 24 hours a day? Are there other family members such as her father or other relatives who take care of your daughter too? You might discuss some of these issues with your pediatrician at your next visit.
Elizabeth Berger MD
Child Psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"