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Separation and Stranger Anxiety

Separation anxiety occurs around six months of age, when Lucy finally realizes that you are not one of her appendages but a separate person who can leave if you so choose. Some kids won’t come to this realization until a year or will simply experience very little disturbance when they do. In the textbook cases, Lucy cries each time you put her down, then reaches for you and asks to be picked up again. The more you try to put her down—to help her focus on things other than you—the more upset she gets. Fortunately, this reaction is short-lived. When she requests your attention, you of course play with her or let her hold on to you. But if you’ve got to go, go—like it or not. Once Lucy realizes the separations aren’t permanent, she’ll learn not to worry about your departures and to welcome your smiling returns.

Fear of strangers also appears around the six-month mark. Lucy no longer smiles generously at everyone; instead, she bursts into tears at the first sight of someone who isn’t an intimate. This is an important developmental phase: Lucy recognizes that not every adult with open arms and a smile is Mommy. The difficulty arises when grandparents or her father fall victim to this new wariness and suffer hurt feelings. If you have to leave her with someone she is uneasy about but whom you trust, do it. Upon your return you may even be disappointed to find that Lucy was perfectly happy with the now-former stranger after just a couple of minutes of crying. If you handle this phase with adult patience and no unnecessary emotion, it will pass within a few months.