"It is not precisely clear when fear develops, but you don't really see fear in young babies," says Dr. Cole. "Fear is not an instinct, it is something that babies learn as they develop a memory." Without the ability to remember things -- such as what situations and people are familiar -- a baby can't determine what's outside the norm and could be a cause for alarm. For example, babies develop stranger anxiety only after they develop a memory and have the ability to realize that they haven't seen that "strange" face before. "Once a child develops an awareness of strangers, then he can develop the capacity to be afraid of leaving the ones he's familiar with. This is separation distress," explains Dr. Cole. Separation distress is most common around 6 to 8 months of age, when babies have developed attachments to their caregivers and don't want to be separated from those people. If a child has a healthy, secure attachment to her caregivers, her distress can be soothed and she'll handle the separation okay, but she'll still be happy to reconnect when that person returns, notes Dr. Cole.
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