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Or: a new source of separation anxiety.

Mary (8 months) has started crawling - although 'peddling' would apply better. Sitting on her left leg, she shuffles around by moving her right leg backwards, while leaning forward on her 'stepping' arms. She immensely enjoys her being able to move on her own! While she formerly used to express her joy of living through moving her arms up- and downwards like a mad penguin, you now can see her 'paddle' from sheer happiness.

Being able to move on your own! That is quite a revolution! To begin with, Mary can now determine herself where she wants to go. It is no longer her parents who decide where she has to go - or to be removed. She visibly enjoys her being able to explore the living room and to explore all the places where she formerly only could dream of. Among the countless white spots on her 'world map', the most desirable are, of course, the places her parents used to avoid: the drawers, the mat, the television, the CD player - not to mention the cat fodder - and the cat herself.

Happily, sockets are no longer a problem nowadays. But, inevitably, the child's freedom of movement entails the first conflicts with the parents. You can try to reduce these to a minimum by arranging the furniture so that the baby can touch practically everything - and by turning a blind eye to some of the baby’s new obsessions, until he gets tired of it. When the baby is permitted to play with everything, there is no harm in draconically imposing the first ban, such as the ban on touching the hot plate.

Being able to freely move around has also its less pleasurable side-effects. You are inadvertently moving away from precisely the parents that used to hold and cuddle you. The arms that cuddled you and the legs that brought you wherever you liked, are now beginning to live a life of their own. You might feel scared when you suddenly find yourself totally alone in some remote corner of the living room. Like everything, also crawling has its price: the loss of the feeling of security.

Make sure that the price is not too high. Try to prevent that your dauntless explorer suddenly finds itself all lone. You should deliberately undergo an appropriate metamorphosis when your baby begins to explore the world. The first months, you have been no more than a pair of cuddling arms or a lap. Now you have to become a visible appearance with a voice. The contact with the tangible body is replaced with contact via seeing and listening. Try to remain always visible and audible when your child is touring around. And if you have to disappear from his field of vision, make yourself at least audible to your child. Call his name, continue talking or singing to him, make more noise while working. Continue to carry your child in a kind of visual or auditory lap! When you neglect to develop such new appearance, the child will anxiously fall back on its former methods of finding security. It will refrain from losing contact with your body and from exploring the world.

But there is more. As long as the child was cuddled in the arms, its parents were a kind of extended body of the child. If he was laid down in his bed, he did not realise that he would soon be left alone, because you left him only when he asleep. And when the baby wakes up, the shelter of the blanket was immediately replaced with that of the parental body. The newly developed audible and visual bond, is not only a bond at a distance, it is also a bond that tends to be broken time and again. Your parents may disappear from view, or they remain silent for a longer time. And to make matters worse: they pop up in the most unpredictable places. Sometimes, it feels as if they are fooling you. When you were concentrating on some fluff, your mother stood just beside you, but when you want to verify whether you may take that fluffy in your mouth by looking at your mother's eyes, she has suddenly disappeared. You take the fluffy in your mouth, and suddenly see mama walking there outside. You just got over your amazement when she has disappeared again. You are about to weep, and she just reappears in the doorway!

It requires lots of mental activity to understand what is happening. Even though the baby has some innate knowledge telling him that there is such a thing as 'continuity', the unpredictable appearance and disappearance of the parents in the most diverse places may be asking too much. Help your baby by announcing your displacement and by making it visible our audible. Compensate your visual disappearance with making yourself audible by talking or singing.

That your parents begin to flutter around in the visible world is already a problem. Still worse is that your parents sometimes seem to really leave you alone when going to work. Wherever you look: no mama to see! There is no question then of crawling after her or looking around where she might be: the very refuge that already elided you by becoming a mere visible or audible appearance at a distance, now seems to have dissolved in nothingness altogether. Not surprising that the child begins to anxiously keep an eye on his parents.

Therefore, it is also important to make it clear when you are really leaving and to clearly indicate the difference between just disappearing for a while and really leaving home. Especially the early sign language of the child can be of great help here. Show your child how to wave when you are leaving for a longer period. He feels proud when he has mastered this magical gesture and the onlookers enjoy his feat, and those feelings help to overcome the pains of separation. Add to this sign the words 'mama, dada!' or 'mama is leaving'. When mama has finally gone, the one who is staying with the child should remind him that there is no trace of mama anywhere now: ‘Where is mama?' 'Mama gone?'’. When the child is looking around, you reassure the baby: 'Mama will soon be back!'. And you repeat - or sing - time and again 'Mama gone? Mama back!' In doing so, you make the departure and the come-back audible here and now. And that is a real reassurance! The child really understands it, and will soon pronounce the accompanying words. When mama pops up again, you repeat the magical words again: 'Mama back! Mama back!’ So does the child learn how to bridge the periods of separation.

The new phase in the development of the child has its bearings on falling asleep. Up to now, the child fancied to always be surrounded by his parents. That you are now able to leave your parents or that your parents can leave you, changes the experience of being laid in bed: are your parents about to leave you alone? That is why crawling children often show manifestations of anxiety when laid in bed. Make sure that you stay with the child until it really sleeps, and make sure that your are always near your child lest he wakes up, and when he does, announce your arrival by calling his name. Once he has understood that you leave it alone, but that you are immediately there when he wakes up, he will fall asleep as he has always done before.

The child has not only a bond to the father and the mother. There are also brothers and sisters, not to mention the cat or the dog. Also his brother or sister leave the child alone when going to school, and the cat might go out to catch mice - or to escape the terror of the baby. Also these less threatening disappearances should be marked by excessive waving and by words: 'Little brother away? Little brother come back!'. And that sounds all the more credible, when you announce their come back with a triumphant 'Brother back!' of 'Pussy back!'

To come to grips with all these new experiences, it helps to play peek-a-boo. You hide behind some wall or door – and call the name of the baby. You let him look around for increasingly longer periods, and before he really becomes scared, you pop up again. He cannot tire from such games: when you reappear, he bursts out laughing! Also playing with a ball is very efficient to teach him that something can roll away, but that you can catch it again. But also the familiar contact from skin to skin has to be renewed. Although the child still enjoys sitting on your arms or on your lap, they increasingly appreciate it when you throw him up in the air, when you turn him around you, when you let them fly on your hands like a bird through the sky. All these games help to strengthen the idea that after each disappearance follows a reappearance

Through establishing such contact at a distance with your visible and audible appearance, through clearly indicating the difference between furtive disappearance and staying away for a longer time, and through playing all kinds of peek-a-boo games, you are weaving a thread through the ever more complicated world of the child. The child enjoys it all the more when the old kind of contact is restored: when you cuddle it now and then, or when you carry it around again on your arms or on your shoulders. Only now does the child really appreciate it when the whole family is sitting around the table, or when everybody is embracing everybody, or when the whole family is dancing in procession with the baby in the arms of his father or mother!

© Stefan Beyst, January 2002 (translation March 2004)

Reactions (in English, French, German or Dutch): beyst.stefan@gmail.com

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