How can I get my daughter to let other people hold her without crying?

Q: My daughter is almost 17 weeks old now; I’m a stay at home mom so I’m with her all day, every day. No one else besides me and her dad can hold her or she cries. We went to the doctor and as soon as her pediatrician and nurse walked into the room, she started crying. When we drop her off at grandparent’s house for a few hrs to babysit, she cries the whole entire time. How can we break her of this?

A: It sounds like your daughter has a very early case of separation/stranger anxiety. Usually this does not occur until around six month. While some children never experience this type of anxiety, it is a normal developmental phase for most. This type of anxiety occurs because a child forms an attachment to a caregiver, typically mom and/or dad, and at the same time she develops the ability the remember objects and people who are out of sight. She starts to understand that mom and dad are permanent objects and will cry or fuss when she can’t see you or has been passed to someone else, even someone familiar like a grandparent. When you are gone from her sight, she thinks you had disappeared for good. Separation anxiety usually peaks around 18 months but can last as late as three years of age.

There are some things you can do to help her learn that you always come back and to reduce some of her anxieties.

  • Never sneak away and always say “good bye” when you leave.
  • Play lots of “peak-a-boo” games to help her see that you come back.
  • Keep in mind that your anticipatory anxiety about her tears often makes it worse because she senses your fear.
  • Prepare her in advance by telling her what is going to happen, even though she is preverbal.
  • When you are at the doctor’s office let him do the exam in your lap.
  • Help her to form an attachment to a transitional object like a breathable blanket or toy and make sure to leave it for her when you are gone or at times when she might need comfort.
  • Ease transitions by having some time together with her and the grandparents before you leave for your night out. This also allows her some time to reacquaint herself with them.
  • Make sure to only let familiar people babysit.

Answered by Dr. Jenn Berman

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