Session 6/13Page 3/5: Topic A: Age 0-3
Topic A: Age 0-3
HELPING BABIES AND INFANTS OVERCOME LOSS: REDUCE THE INTENSITY OF SEPARATION RESPONSES
The goal of your work is not “to make the child happy all the time”. If you can gradually reduce the intensity of the child’s responses to separation, you have helped the child to react normally. Being completely withdrawn is not useful, but being a little shy and sensitive is normal – the only difference is how intense the reaction is. Going into states of extreme panic when you leave the room is not normal, but crying or being a little disappointed when you leave is perfectly normal.
Here are some suggestions you may use. What helps depends very much on the individual relation between staff members and the infant in question. So don’t try to do “the right thing”. Try to be sensitive, combine the solutions in your own way, and take notes every day about how the child responds to your efforts.
SUGGESTIONS FOR ACTIVITIES
- Discuss possible changes of work plans to give especially babies the same caregivers during the daytime, as much as possible. For example two caregivers being responsible for a certain group of babies.
- Practice the five dimensions of “secure caregiver behaviour” (see session 4, Topic Introduction B: The dimensions of secure caregiver behaviour). It is difficult to be around a very withdrawn or a constantly clinging child without being negatively affected. You should talk regularly with colleagues about how you feel yourself, in order to keep yourself happy even though the child does not respond normally.
- Use physical contact – physical contact such as baby massage or carrying the baby on your body stimulates the normal function of the attachment system. Be very patient, it may take months or years before the child shows more normal attachment behaviour such as enjoying being hugged, kissed, sitting on your lap, or being cuddled. (see session 3 for inspiration).
- Be very aware of being expressive, emotional, and even exaggerate your responsiveness when you are in contact with the infant. You can see the mother again in the first part of the Still Face Experiment and notice how she uses her voice and body language to engage the baby in interaction.
- Show the infants that you are “always around” and expect it to have a greater need for security and your presence for a longer time than children normally have.
- Play “Hide and seek” frequently with the infants. This kind of play will help the children cope with separations as being joyful and fun. Also, this activity helps the children form an “internal representation” of you which is always there, making it less dependent of your physical presence. You can also hide objects and let the infants look for them – this also helps the children to understand that people and things are still there even though you can’t see or hear them.
- If the infants are old enough to understand: Instead of leaving the infant’s room at bedtime, you can play this game: the children should “send you away” itself from the bedroom, and call for you to come back if they become afraid. In this way they can feel a sense of controlling the separation instead of just being passively “abandoned”. You can then commend them for being brave enough to send you “away from the bedroom” for still longer periods of time. You can tie a leash to your dress so the children can pull you back to the bed. This game makes great fun!
When you have decided how you will try to combine the above methods, write them down and also write down what each infant responds most positively to. Use your mobile phone for taking small video clips of your activities and look through them to understand how the children respond. Be sure to take video so close that you can see the infants faces and expressions.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT WHEN THE CHILD IS PLACED WITH US BEFORE AGE 3?
In general children placed before age three tend to be flexible in their attachment. Most infants will be able to attach to certain caregivers, provided they have them most of the time. Infants very often drop the attachment pattern they learned from the biological parents and adapt to that of the new primary caregiver.
They also tend to become more like their caregivers in personality and social development than children placed at an older age.
However, you should give the babies and infants a long time to get over the loss of biological parents before it can begin to bond with you as caregivers.