That's Grandma, remember? Life after COVID-19

That's Grandma, remember? Life after COVID-19

That’s grandma, remember? Life after COVID-19

The current pandemic guidelines have meant we’ve all needed to change the way we do things. Limiting social gatherings, staying 1.5 metres apart and rediscovering the joys of home life have meant a major shift in our usual practices.

Babies and young children too have been affected, meaning changes in their relationships with other people. Grandparents particularly, as well as extended family members, have all needed to keep their distance.

Now the guidelines are becoming a bit more relaxed and we’re starting to reconnect with others. As adults we’re excited to just pick up where we left off, but for small people it’s not that easy. Babies have relatively short memories and unless they see people fairly frequently they forget who’s who. Little do
they care that grandma is desperate to see and hold them.

Read on to learn how best to manage your baby’s responses during reconnection.

Why are you so upset?

Babies are hard-wired to build attachments with the people most likely to ensure their survival. The human race has survived for around 200,000 years, largely because parents and babies form strong emotional bonds with each other.

Generally, parents and primary caregivers are the first people with whom babies build close relationships. And because these attachments are so strong, it can be hard for babies to know when it’s OK to share their affections. Protests and crying are common when babies feel unsure because they have to signal their need for reassurance.

Remember every baby is an individual. How they build skills in feeling comfortable about strangers has a lot to do with their temperament and personality. Some babies are slower than others to warm up to new people; they’re not quite so adaptable and a little more sensitive. This does not mean they will be shy or insecure adults, simply that they are taking their own sweet time.

It pays to consider your own responses when seeing others after a long break. If you give positive ‘feel-good’ vibes, your baby will learn that being social is actually a good thing. Babies and young children learn the world is generally a safe place from watching and listening to how others respond.

Separation anxiety

This is a normal developmental stage which occurs at around seven months of age. Some babies develop separation anxiety earlier than this, others later, and some not at all. The way to manage separation anxiety is with lots of patience and reassurance. And to remember it’s normal.

Babies grow through some major changes in their first year of life, and learning who to trust is one of the most important. Babies who feel safe and secure are more likely to become secure adults. And though it may be annoying when your baby cries for you every time you leave the room, they have not yet learned that
you will come back. Quite literally, if they can’t see you they’ll think you’ve disappeared. Small people can have big feelings. Often they need help to manage their feelings from bigger people who love them.

Try to view separation anxiety as a sign of your baby’s attachment to you. It’s not a negative behaviour and in fact, gives a very clear indication of the quality of the relationship between a baby and parent. Make (re)introductions as matter of fact as you can. With time and exposure, your little one will learn that the world is generally a safe place.

Circle of Security

This is a model of care which helps us to understand why babies and young children behave as they do. In a child’s world, their parents provide a secure base so they can venture out and explore the world. As babies grow, they build skills in independence, becoming increasingly confident about moving away
from their parent and feeling more comfortable with this separation. Building these skills takes many hours of practice and repetition and in the process, babies return time and again to ‘top-up’ their emotional cup.

You’ll find your baby will look to you for reassurance that all is fine. The Circle of Security model uses an image of parents being the ‘safe hands’, which children need to feel to be secure. Babies can seem hesitant, unsure and even clingy when they’re in a new or unfamiliar situation. Give your baby time and
be patient with them. There is no one consistent timeframe which suits all babies in learning to feel comfortable with new people. Check here for more information about Circle of Security.

Top tips for managing stranger danger

  • Think about your own emotions when your baby cries. If their distress brings up strong feelings of anxiety or stress in you, there may be benefits in speaking with a counselor.
  • Avoid feeling you need to make excuses for your baby if they cry. Just be honest and say that it’s been some time since your baby has seen anyone other than you and they’re taking their time to refamiliarise themselves.
  • Reassure family and friends not to take your baby’s protests personally. Like other developmental stages, it can take time and practice for them to feel comfortable with new skills.
  • Avoid reconnecting with others if you’re in a rush. A relaxed environment will help your baby to feel that there’s really nothing to worry about.
  • Plan for visiting to happen in a familiar environment for your baby. If there are lots of new things to consider, your baby may feel overwhelmed.
  • Try to limit one new person at a time. A crowd of people jostling for your baby’s attention is likely to make them feel uneasy.

Lifting COVID-19 restrictions: Ten top tips for timing re-introductions

1. Aim for a gradual reintroduction with family and friends. Avoid ‘pushing’ or forcing your baby onto
people who they haven’t seen for a while.
2. Stay close by. Let your baby see you at the same time there are new faces.
3. Hold your baby in your arms, talk gently and be reassuring.
4. If your baby protests, reassure and comfort them, but be mindful of not going overboard. Calm messages, a cuddle and “you’re OK” should be enough.
5. Avoid standing up too close to strangers; like adults, babies can feel closed in when people get up too close and personal.
6. Plan for a time when your baby isn’t hungry or tired. They’re more likely to be relaxed and receptive if they’re comfortable and their physical needs are all met.
7. Keep early reintroductions a quiet affair. The current guidelines are still placing a limit on the numbers of people who can get together at any one time.
8. Start small and build on the time you’re socializing with others.
9. Follow your baby’s lead, be sensitive to their cues and signals. Some babies become quieter when they’re upset and don’t cry.
10. Use your voice and eye contact to help them feel safe. Be authentically reassuring and your baby will learn that you are still their number 1.

Remember, your baby is trying to tell you in the best way they know how, that they love you.

Written for Safe Sleep Space by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse.

Help with looking after your baby

The NourishBaby - Guide to Babies - is an online program that you can view in your own time. The Guide to Babies helps you to understand and care for your baby and covers key milestones, sleep and settling advice and baby development. There is a section on real parents sharing their experience of adjusting to parenthood. 

Many parents have reduced sleep when a new baby arrives. The Safe Sleep Space website has a variety of resources and supports to provide tips and advice on how to assist your baby with sleep. You can also book a phone consultation to speak with a Sleep Consultant. 

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