By Anne Becker, published on July 1, 2003 - last reviewed on May 22, 2008
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
"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,"
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
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
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