Separation Anxiety - When to Start Thinking About a Babysitter
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
As much as we’d all like nothing more than to stay at home and enjoy family time all day, we have real-world responsibilities too. Going back to work after maternity or paternity leave can be tough, but how do you know when it’s the right time?
As much as we’d all like nothing more than to stay at home and enjoy family time all day, we have real-world responsibilities too. Going back to work after maternity or paternity leave can be tough, but how do you know when it’s the right time? The simplest answer is that when you’re confident both you and your child can get through the day without desperately needing each other, you’re ready. But let’s break this down and figure it out, starting with attachment theory.
Attachment theory is a psychological explanation of the typical stages in the relationship-forming abilities of infants. For your child to develop into a healthy well-adjusted adult, they need to form important interpersonal relationships with their parents, relatives, and close friends during childhood. It may be a little tough to understand what an infant needs before they learn to talk, but, for them, forming attachments is about interacting with an adult who correctly responds to their unspoken needs. The general stages of attachment for infants have been narrowed down into stages, and these form a handy guide to when your child might be ready for a babysitter.
Ages and Stages
Until a baby is about 7 months old, they’re pretty happy to interact with anyone, stranger or not. They might start to recognise familiar faces at around 3 months of age, and will enjoy their company a little more, but overall a baby of this age won’t kick up a fuss no matter who they’re with. The 7 to 9 month range is the crucial stage for forming specific attachments. At this point, your baby will want to be around the primary caregivers (usually mum and dad) more than anyone else, and will start to become wary of strangers. After around 10 months, the baby will learn how to form multiple relationships, and will start to interact socially in a way far more familiar to adults - preferring friends but with the capacity to build a relationship with a stranger.
Separation anxiety starts to occur at about the 7 month stage - for the baby at least. Parent and child alike will feel unsafe, isolated, and upset when separated. Upon reuniting, both parent and child will be happy and relieved. For a baby, the trick to avoiding bad separation anxiety is leaving them in the care of someone they know and like. Your first nights away from the baby will be the hardest, so leaving them in the care of a trusted relative or friend will be the best for both of you. Starting to have time apart from as young as the 3 month milestone will help get your child used to you not being around all the time. As the baby ages, they’ll form better attachments to the people they see all the time, so if you have particular friends or family you’ll rely on more for babysitting, make sure you and your child spend a lot of time with them.
Relationships form gradually, especially for children. Leaving your baby alone with a new babysitter for an extended period of time is a recipe for disaster - introducing the babysitter to the baby first and waiting until they’re familiar friends will help prevent separation anxiety. If you’re hiring a new babysitter, the best time is either before the baby is 7 months old, or after they’re 10 month old. Assuming your baby forms attachments correctly and doesn’t suffer excessive anxiety or confusion, they’ll be less likely to care that the babysitter is stranger before they’re 7 months old, and more capable of building a relationship with a stranger after 10 months of age.
The psychology of children is complicated, but they are probably more capable of building good relationships than you give them credit for. As soon as you’re ready to go back to work, or just want the freedom to do the grocery shopping without the risk of a tantrum, your child will be ready to befriend a new babysitter. Alternatively, sending your children to a daycare is a less expensive option, and they’ll learn more social skills in a group setting than one-on-one. In any case, your child will be fine, and you’ll both be so much happier to see each other again after a little time apart.