I've lost count of the number of times I've been greeted by blood curdling cries in the church hallways as over fatigued moms attempt to drop their babies off in the nursery. Volunteers are eagerly waiting to shower love, care and patience on each baby so moms can catch a much needed break. They use every familiar skill in their arsenal to hush and soothe, only to discover the tears of “separation anxiety” rage on.
At about six months, babies develop representational thinking, which means they can picture objects and people in their mind. They days of “out of sight, out of mind” are gone. When a parent or familiar person “disappears” from a baby’s sight, it produces separation anxiety in them.
One way to help alleviate this is to take the time to share with parents what their child is experiencing as well as find ways to earn the trust of both parent and baby during this 'trust versus mistrust' phase. This is the first stage of Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development and it happens between birth and approximately 18 months of age. According to Erikson, trust versus mistrust is the most important timeframe in a person's life. The quality and quantity of care that babies receive during this stage from their primary caregivers influences their ability to trust others later on in life. Success during this phase leads to hope.
I firmly believe that nursery staff and volunteers are 'foundation builders', not baby sitters! They give each baby they warmly hold, cuddle, feed and change, their first glimpse of their Heavenly Father! So over-staff your nursery with baby lovers and work with each parent to ease anxiety in them and their baby.
- Greet parents and babies warmly. Shower love on both parents and babies to ease anxiety. Greet and talk directly to each baby (even if he or she is crying) and parent as they arrive.
- Help parents to establish a special good-bye routine. Often parents try to sneak out while their baby is being distracted. Sneaking out may save the parent from hearing their baby cry but it increases separation anxiety. They need the comfort of a familiar good-bye routine. A high-five, tickle, flying kisses, a hug or a familiar phrase are ways parents can establish a routine. Discourage prolonging them leaving, and stay calm.
- Create a story flip book for each baby. Ask parents to bring photographs of the baby, parents, siblings, pet and favorite objects. Include captions with each picture that say, “God made (name of the baby), God made mommy and daddy, God loves (name of the baby), God made (sibling names), (name of baby) loves to play with (favorite object).” Use it as a storybook. This can be a great source of comfort.
- Establish a consistent nursery routine and schedule. Fight separation anxiety through predictability. Prepare them with transitions as you move from Bible songs, to story time, to snack time and playtime.
- Allow babies to have their security object. Familiarity breeds security. You can help reduce separation anxiety by allowing them the comfort of their blanket or a stuffed animal.
- Rock, pray and sing to the babies as you hold them. Hold and talk to the baby so they learn to trust your touch and voice. It will become a source of comfort over time.
- Ask parents to attend regularly during the separation anxiety stage. A consistent routine affords babies to feel safe and secure in familiar surroundings. Ask the parents how long they are comfortable allowing their baby to cry before they should be notified.