Session 7/15Page 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 Being completely withdrawn is not useful, but being a little shy and sensitive is normal – the only difference is how intense the reaction is.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 foster parents as caregivers and the child in question. 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
- Practice the five dimensions of “secure caregiver behaviour” (see session 6, 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 It is difficult to be around a very withdrawn or a constantly clinging child without being negatively affected.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 to others (spouse, friends) regularly about how you feel yourself, in order to reduce your own stress when the child does not respond normally.
- Use physical contact such as baby massage or carrying the baby on your body which 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 5 for inspiration).
- Be very expressive, emotional, and even exaggerate you responsiveness when you are interacting with the infant. You can watch the Still Face Experiment again and notice how the mother in the beginning uses her voice and body language to engage the baby in interaction.
- Show the infant 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 infant. This kind of play will help the child cope with separations as being joyful and fun. Also, this activity helps the child form an “internal representation” of you as always being there making it less dependent on your physical presence. You can also hide objects and let the infant look for them – this also helps the child to understand that people and things are still there even though you can’t see or hear them.
- If the infant is old enough to understand: Instead of leaving the infant’s room at bedtime, you can play this game: the child should “send you away” from the bedroom, and call for you to come back if it becomes afraid. This way it can feel a sense of controlling the separation instead of just being passively “abandoned”. You can then commend it 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 child 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 the infant responds most positively to. If possible, use your smart phone to record your activities and look through them to understand how the child responds. Make close-up recordings so that you can see the infant’s facial expressions.
Secure caregiver behavior: Child after bath
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT WHEN THE CHILD IS PLACED BEFORE AGE 3?
In general, children placed in a foster family before age three tend to be flexible in their attachment. Most infants will be able to attach to one or both foster parents as if they were the child’s own parents. 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 foster parents in habits and social development than children placed at an older age. However, you should give the infant a long time to get over the loss of biological parents before it can begin to bond with you as a foster parent.