Two Cribs: Bad for Baby?

Kids love musical chairs, but musical beds? Not so much, according to a study on infants of separated parents.

Babies who live with one of their parents and spend nights with the other have difficulty establishing secure parental attachments, says Carol George, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., and Judith Solomon, Ph.D., of the Early Childhood Mental Health Program in Richmond, Calif.

George and Solomon observed 145 babies who were separated from and reunited with their parents in a lab setting. The babies were 12 to 18 months old at the outset.

Two-thirds of the babies who lived with one of their separated parents and visited the other on an overnight basis had disorganized attachments with both parents. They could not cope with separations and reunions with parents and did not trust parents as a resource to handle stress, researchers found. Babies who lived with married parents or who had daytime visits with one separated parent did not show this behavior.

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"These babies appeared to be so lacking in confidence that they were going to be cared for that they ended up living in a state of fear," explains George.

For young babies who base their understanding of the world on moment-to-moment observations, going to sleep may be a stressful experience, says George. Babies who consistently sleep in the same home, however, may learn to deal with the stress.

Parents going through separations should take extra care to co-parent and put their baby's needs first, says George. They should avoid arguing in front of the child and avoid using her as a bargaining tool.

Parents should start overnights on a trial basis and adjust the length and frequency based on how well the baby is coping. Warning signs that an overnight situation is not working out include tantrums or problems sleeping.

If parents are having difficulty co-parenting, George suggests consulting a developmental psychologist to advocate on the baby's behalf, or waiting until the baby is older to introduce overnight visiting schedules.

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