Development FAQ: 6-12 months – Behaviour

My 8.5mth daughter has started to become very clingy to me despite going to nursery twice a week

My 8.5mth daughter has just started to become very clingy towards me. If she knows I am in the room she will whinge until I pick her up but isn’t a cuddly baby. She loved sitting with her dad when he gets home from work whilst I go into the kitchen to prepare dinner but this past week she has screamed as soon as I walk out of the lounge. Also, my husband takes her to bed and always brings her into the kitchen to say goodnight. She has also just started screaming as soon as he walks out of the kitchen. Is there anything I can do to make her less clingy? I thought going to nursery 2 mornings a week would help.

Separation anxiety is common amongst babies of this age. As it is a developmental stage it can happen regardless of whether or not they attend a nursery. The baby has come to realize that she is a separate person from you.

Up until now your daughter thought of herself as an extension of you. Now that she understands that she is a separate person she can become rather clingy, concerned that the person she loves so much is going to leave her. She has learnt that you can go away from her, but she does not know when you are going to return. At the end of the day, when she is tired, she may be clingier than earlier on when you left her at nursery.

If your daughter is already crawling you may notice that she will try to follow you wherever you go. If she is not crawling then she may be more clingy as she knows that when you leave her side she is unable to get to you. If you are in the same room and she is whinging to be picked up, try talking to her about what you are doing. Use a reassuring voice, acknowledging her needs but also encouraging her to wait for a minute or two before you attend to her. Getting the balance right between accepting her present need for being close to you and encouraging her to amuse herself for short periods on her own can be difficult during this phase. At certain times of the day she may need more holding and carrying than at others. When she is tired or hungry she may be less able to cope with her feelings about being apart from you. Accepting and understanding her needs will help you to manage during this phase.

This anxiety can continue for quite a while in varying degrees but will have probably disappeared after her first birthday, although it can overlap a period when she becomes very wary of people unknown to her.

To help your daughter through these times it is best to be sympathetic to her needs, but also help her to understand that, although you have disappeared from sight, you are not gone altogether. It can be difficult if you feel that your baby would prefer to be with you rather than her father. But this is a phase and it will pass so keep encouraging him to care for her. It will help get her used to being apart from you, although it may mean a few tears, if she is cared for by other members of her family, and spends time at nursery. If you try to ignore these feelings she has, by leaving her alone in a room with no warning or sneaking out so she doesn’t see, it may take her longer to get over it. She will become clingier in case you disappear rather then learning to cope with short absences.

Play lots of games of “peek a boo” with your daughter to help her realize that, although she cannot see you, you are still there and will return. Begin with being next to her and hiding your face behind a cushion or muslin. Call to her, “Where’s Mummy?” and then reappear. Once she has learnt how this game works she may try to find you by pulling at the muslin or cushion. Then begin to move further away from her, hiding behind a chair or sofa. Gradually extend the time that you hide, and move further from her side. Reassure her with your voice whilst you are hiding if she begins to look distressed. Play these games at a time of day when she is not getting tired so she can enjoy the surprise element rather than getting upset.

In the evenings when you leave your daughter to go into the kitchen, tell her that you are going and have a short phrase such as “Bye, bye, see you later” which you always use. This may not stop the tears completely but will help her realize that this is what happens just before her bath time and so help her become more used to the idea. Use a similar phrase when kissing her goodnight. The one that comes to mind is, “Sleep tight, make sure the bed bugs don’t bite, see you in the morning light”. Again, she may still cry at the parting but will come to understand that the phrase signals the time she must leave you. It can be distressing to hear your baby cry, especially just before bed, but it is a good idea that her father continues to put her to bed.

Try to keep upbeat and cheerful even if you don’t feel it yourself. It is much better that you ride out this phase by not giving in entirely to her cries for you. She will soon realize that her father is a pretty special part of her world as well. The more time he does care for her, the quicker she will realize this and begin to enjoy his company again. As she learns to cope with her feelings about leaving you and realizes that you do return, her anxieties should begin to decrease.

For more on this subject have a look at Gina’s book Contented Baby to Confident Child, page 73.