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Play Away to Build Independence
There’s something bittersweet about the first time your infant cries because you’ve left her side. OK, maybe sweet has nothing to do with your formerly mellow babe letting loose blood-curdling screams every time you exit the room to use the bathroom or leave her with the sitter. But when separation anxiety kicks in at around 7-9 months, try to remind yourself that it’s a sign that your baby is developing normally.

“The prevailing idea is that the baby needs to understand that when you go away, it’s temporary,” says Kathleen Alfano, Ph.D., Former Director of Child Research for the Fisher-Price Play Lab. “Some children move through this stage more rapidly and smoothly than others.” To help cement the idea that just because something – in this case, you – is out of sight doesn’t mean it’s gone forever, the best prescription is lots of practice through playtime.

Here are some games that can inspire infant independence and eventually help ease separation anxiety.

The classic peek-a-boo. As you’ve probably realized, the concept of disappearing and reappearing is fascinating – and hilarious – to her! Try different variations of the game to help her grasp the idea of object permanence. In baby doc lingo, that means realizing things continue to exist even when they can’t be observed. From popping your head up from beneath the high chair to hiding a small toy under a blanket, eventually she'll come to expect the end result. You can also show baby the surprises hidden under “lift the flap” features on her play mat or within soft books. “When they start playing these games themselves, they’ve mastered it,” says Dr. Alfano.

In and out games. Let your baby “help” you do the laundry or clean up by putting items into a small basket. Her favorite part will no doubt be when you dump out all the contents and start again. Some toys mimic this idea, too.

Dress up. You can also incorporate play into your morning and evening routines, says Dr. Alfano. For example, your baby will marvel when you show her how her toes are there one minute, and then hidden under her socks the next. Watch her light up when you pull off the socks, and clap for her as she finds her toes again!

Even after your little one becomes a peek-a-boo pro, don’t be surprised if she still occasionally gets upset if you drop her off at grandma’s or daycare. Understanding that you’ll come back soon is an important step, but it won’t stop her from missing you, says Dr. Alfano. You can relate to that, right?
Dawn Papandrea