Social Development and Separation Anxiety


Your baby’s social skills begin to develop from birth. You and the other people close to your baby are your baby’s first friends. As they get to know you and enjoy interacting and playing with you, you become their first playmates. With a bit of help from you they will learn how to interact with other people and other babies and toddlers too.  Between birth and three, your baby's social skills gradually mature. From the moment they are born, your child learns to adapt and respond to the people around them. During the first year, they will focus mainly on discovering what they can do and interacting with their parents. They'll enjoy others but will definitely prefer you and your partner. Around the time they turn two, they begin to enjoy playing interactively with other children. But as with any other skill, they will need to learn how to socialise with other kids by trial and error. At first, they will be unable to share their toys. Later, they'll become a better friend as they learn how to empathise with others. By age three, they'll be on their way to making real friends. What comes next  Children naturally love and gravitate toward other people, especially other children. As your child grows, they'll learn more about how to respond to others in social situations and enjoyment of their company will grow. Children learn from watching and interacting with other children. When they learn how to empathise with other children and how much fun it is to have playmates, they'll develop more true, lasting friendships.  Your role  Spend lots of face-to-face time with your baby, especially in the first few months. They'll love the attention and will enjoy making faces with you. Invite friends and relatives over; babies love visitors, young and old alike, especially when they're all going ga-ga over them.  Toddlers can benefit from having peers around, so arrange to meet friends in a park or have friends over to play, but make sure you have plenty of toys for everyone. Your child may have difficulty sharing his things with others. If your child develops stranger anxiety, don't be upset or embarrassed. Babies normally become nervous around unfamiliar people at approximately seven months. If they cry when you put them in a distant relative's arms, for example, take them back in your arms and try a slow desensitization process. First wait until they are comfortable in your arms while the other person is around. Then, have the individual talk and play with your child while you hold them. Then, hand them over to the other person for a short time and stay close. Finally, try to leave the room for a few minutes, and see how it goes. If your child bawls, take them back and comfort them, and try again another time. 

Separation Anxiety

It's a really good experience for a young child to be left regularly with a trustworthy adult other than a parent. This could be a grandparent, relative, child minder or nanny or at nursery. Your child will learn how to make new relationships and develop social skills, and this is good preparation for starting playgroup or school.

What age does it start? 

Separation anxiety can begin as early as six to nine months when your child first becomes aware of strangers. From this age you might see tears when you leave your baby with a carer for the first time, or when your child starts nursery or school. Or you might find your child settles in well in the first week, then subsequently cries when it's clear that this is a long term arrangement.


Children often cry when you collect them too, as your child will often feel a rush of overwhelming emotion that results in tears at seeing you again. It could also be that your child is feeling exhausted, and it is a good idea to meet them with a snack (plus a cuddle 😊).


Why do some children cry but not others? 

Mary Ainsworth was a developmental psychologist known for developing attachment theory. Secure attachment occurs when children feel they can rely on their caregivers to attend to their needs of proximity, emotional support and protection.


The attachment type of children is also determined by their innate biology and the genes they are born with. Children with different inborn temperaments will have different attachment types. Babies with an easy temperament (those who eat and sleep regularly and accept new experiences) are likely to develop secure attachments. Babies with a ‘slow to warm up’ temperament (those who take a while to get used to new experiences) and those with a ‘difficult’ temperament (those who eat and sleep irregularly and who reject new experiences) are likely to have insecure attachments and are more easily distressed


How can you help? 

How you handle the process is important and there are things you can do to help settle your baby or child quickly. Preparation is the first step, especially with older babies and children. Most nursery’s will have settling in days, but even before attending those, go past the building together a few times before actually going in. Try talking about where they will be going, the fun they will have and the friends they will make there. When they first attend you could let them take a favourite toy with them, even if it is just for the journey.


How to leave and say goodbye? 

You need to be clear and unemotional.  

• Tell them that you are going, 

• Tell them that you will be coming back in terms that they can understand (‘mummy will be coming back to take you home for tea’), 

• Kiss them goodbye and leave,  

• Try to make this as quick as possible,

• Don’t ‘sneak’ out while they are not looking.


What comes next? 

Developing socially is a gradual process, but soon your child will have their own active social life. As your child grows, they will learn about how to respond to others and how to enjoy their company. Children naturally gravitate towards other people, especially children, and much of their learning comes from directly observing their peers. You can help by maximising the opportunities your child has to practice socialising. Keep being sensitive to your child’s needs and recognise and act on their cues for attention, and proudly watch as they develop meaningful, lasting friendships. nursery. But there are things parents can do to help children settle - and get the most out of the experience.

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