Support and Advice from TNPC's Parenting Experts

Babies spend most of the first year in ignorance of the fact that they’re individual people separate from their parents. As they learn that objects and people do have an existence of their own, separate from themselves (as they learn what psychologists call object competency), so they discover that separateness.

It’s a huge intellectual leap in understanding, but not an entirely happy one. As long as you were out of mind when you were out of sight, your baby could tolerate brief separations after an initial protest, but now he’s becoming conscious that when you aren’t with him, you’re somewhere else, and that makes him anxious; he’d rather you’d stayed right where he could see you. He doesn’t like you going away, and he doesn’t like realizing that he can’t make you stay. That’s the simplified basis for a lot of common difficulties around one year of age, like difficulties over being left for the night.

Remember, his tendency to cling arises directly out of the fact that he loves to distraction, probably more intensely than you’ve ever been loved before. The more you can convince him that even though you are separate and could leave him, you’ll never do so for more that a few hours, the sooner he’ll get back his confidence and ready himself to move away from you in the adventures of toddlerhood.

Penelope Leach, Ph.D., is one of the world’s most respected (and best-loved) developmental child psychologists. She is most widely known for her best-selling books on child development and parenting. They include Babyhood, Children First: What Society Must Do — and Is Not Doing — for Our Children Today, the classic Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Age Five (now in a new edition for a new generation), and Your Growing Child: From Babyhood Through Adolescence.


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