Learning to be sociable and comfortable around other people is a natural part of growing up. But it’s a two-way process, involving you as much as your baby. After all, you probably don’t find it easy to release her into someone else’s care, even for a short time. So helping her to be sociable is something you and she need to learn together.
Your baby’s anxiety is a normal part of development in her first year. She’ll learn to cope, though it may take a while.
Your own cling-on
As your baby grows, she has two conflicting desires. First, she wants to be increasingly independent. Second, she wants your reassuring presence whenever she feels the need. And it’s this need to cling to you that causes her to burst into tears when you let someone else pick her up or when she realises you’re leaving her with a babysitter. She thinks “I prefer you, mum, and I’m not ready to let you go.” Happy until that moment, she howls hysterically as realisation dawns.
If your baby does get upset when someone other than you holds her or when you leave her with a babysitter, calm and soothe her, reassure her she’ll be fine – then leave her just as planned.
Pass her round
The more experience she has of short breaks from you then seeing you return and the more you allow others to hold her, the more confident she’ll be in future. Infants whose parents often use babysitters usually manage breaks with few tears. When reunited, make a big fuss of her, play, cuddle, smile and tell her how pleased you are with her. She’ll soon think “That wasn’t so bad!”
You can also help by ensuring she spends time with other babies and their parents. This gets her used to people other than you and your partner and helps her be less anxious when separating from you.
A baby may cry when handled by someone else because she knows it gets attention; she’s learnt it ensures you fuss over her. If this could be why she’s crying, try to ignore her tears at such times. Carry on as if she weren’t fussing, and make a point of giving her extra attention if she doesn’t cry when mixing with others.
Ways to help your baby make friends:
Be positive: Whether leaving her with another carer or passing her to someone else to hold, have a smile on your face. Your baby takes her lead from you.
Familiarise her: Before leaving her with a new babysitter, let them meet a few times so they get used to each other.
Stay calm: When she’s about to be held by others, you may feel tense, in anticipation of possible distress. Try to relax.
No drama: Even if she becomes upset, give her a quick cuddle, then let her get on with it. Drawing it out increases her anxiety.
Stick to your plans: Resist the temptation to avoid social situations because of your baby’s tears – she needs experience to learn how to be sociable.
Some medical experts worry that a dummy can hinder your baby’s speech development as it restricts the range of mouth movements or noises she makes. But it’s a question of balance: in the first year moderate use isn’t a problem, as long as it’s not in her mouth for too much of the time.