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Separation and nurturing independence are different for every family dynamic and individual characteristics. Some children are born and desire to be very physically close to their parent or caregiver while others are comfortable with more space. Throughout the first twelve months of a child’s life, they begin exploring and understanding their environments and go through a lot of physical and behavioral changes. A caregiver has created an incredibly strong bond with this little human being that has come into their life and opened them up to new experiences and emotions. As a parent, you have contributed to this child and influenced many behaviors, reactions, and mannerisms. As a person that has taken care of and guided the development through these milestones, it may be difficult for parents to “loosen their reigns” so to speak. (Photo Credit: Jenny Garcia)
Many safety reasons are key to being close to a child, as well as feeding and family situations and it is equally beneficial for the child to be close, often skin-to-skin with their parent in these early stages as it is to develop muscle tone and curiosity in play with tummy time and crawling.
For those who desire to nurture more independent children, early encouragement of individual growth and space is important, while keeping in mind there are many different parenting styles and choices as there is no one-size-fits-all. After speaking with a few different parents, a common theme that has come up is that some caregivers view their child as an award or token. To this group, their child is a physical and emotional result of all of the time, hard work, and dedication that parents continually put in. It is no wonder that they are hesitant to share, or even expose, their special gift to the world. Though, parents need to be able to separate themselves and give their baby independence to learn. While this certainly isn't the case for everyone, many find it difficult to know when to introduce these small spaces and encourage curiosity in their children with an exploration of the big world around them safely.
The following are some things for caregivers to do or promote healthy independence within and even outside of the home.
Explore. Whatever environment they are in: their home, family member’s house, park, etc., it is important to let your child explore. This will help them to not only feel more comfortable in the particular place, but it will also increase motor skills and overall curiosity (1). Rather than carry them around, let the child explore the environment themselves. It is important for an individual to let their child explore while still keeping an eye on them from a distance.
Give them a task. Give your child a task that might be a bit challenging for them and let them try to figure it out on their own. Whether it is holding their own bottle, opening a difficult container, or feeding themselves, these tasks will increase a child’s independence. If they can not successfully complete the tasks, that is 100% okay as they will learn from their mistakes and be able to apply the knowledge next time. It is also a perfect time for the caregiver to step in and properly show the baby how to do it!
Friends. People learn a lot through socialization and experiences with their peers. Because of this, it is extremely important for a parent to promote relationships with other children, family members, and friends. By navigating these friendships, one’s child will be able to notice and learn from other perspectives.
Routines. When it's appropriate or needed for family situations, having an alternate caregiver that the child is comfortable with doing some of their routines such as bath time, feeding, or sleeping can also develop independence from their primary provider. This also can help them learn self-soothing techniques and building trust with others. It is important that separation and independence are not just seen as something the child must learn, but also that caregivers find themselves ok with letting others into those routines to give themselves some space to grow, nurture themselves, or transition back to some of their own work/life routines when possible. For more information see Healing and Transitioning Back to Work.
There are many ways to encourage a child to grow into a full functioning, resilient, and responsible human being. By giving them incremental amounts of space and room to grow, they will discover new interests, likes and dislikes, problem-solving, develop appropriate muscle tone and so much more. Yes, they might take a while to figure some things out, but they will always learn from those experiences and apply the knowledge to the next task at hand.
1) Mary L. Gavin, Safe Exploring For Toddlers, KidsHealth,
Julianna La Coco, CCCN Intern 2021