Q: I'm worried about leaving my 6-month-old baby with a babysitter for the first time. How can we prepare her?
A: Most babies tend to cling to their mother or other caregivers at this age, because this is when they begin to differentiate between the people they know and those they don't -- so you can expect some tears when you say good-bye. But these steps can make the night more bearable for all:• Have the sitter visit a few days before, so she and baby can get to know each other while you're around. This will also give you the chance to show the sitter your baby's routines, preferences, and quirks -- how she likes to be held and fed, what upsets her, how to soothe her, her favorite games and books, etc.• On the night you're going out, ask the sitter to come to your house about a half an hour before you plan to leave, which will give your baby time to make the transition. When the sitter arrives, sit down with her and the baby for a few minutes and get involved in an activity, like playing with toys on a floor mat. That way, they'll already be engaged when you leave.• When you head out the door, it's important that you say good-bye. Avoid the temptation to sneak out because that sends the message that you're doing something wrong by leaving, which will only increase your baby's anxiety about the separation (even at 6 months she can pick up on your feelings and react to them). Saying good-bye tells your child that she can count on you to let her know what's going on. It also means she doesn't have to worry about when you're going to disappear next.• Bid your baby farewell with a cheerful tone, smiles, and warm hugs. If you have a worried look on your face and a quivering voice, the message is, again, that you don't feel good about leaving her and she must have something to worry about. And for the same reasons, don't come back in once you've left. Although you're understandably anxious about leaving your child for the first time, it will get easier as she learns that you always come back.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, February 2004. Updated 2009.