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Children at this stage need to form secure emotional attachments with protective care-givers. Security requires responsiveness and consistency.
A baby younger than two months will usually respond to any caregiver, and from two to six months begins to recognize and prefer a primary caregiver. From seven months to two years, a child will actively seek preferred caregivers, and from fifteen to twenty four months, may protest separation.
Children may normally display distress leaving one or both parents and upon return from one or both parents. Even babies will become frightened, clinging, and sensitive, and have sleep or eating disorders if the parents are emotionally unresponsive or aggressive due to their own emotional problems, if the parents fight or argue in front of the babies, or if the parents are abusive to each other.
Parents should coordinate feeding and sleep schedules. The child needs a calm, safe, secure and stable environment. Disputes over routines are detrimental to the child. The child needs frequent, consistent, stable scheduled contact with both parents.
An every other weekend contact schedule is detrimental to the child at this stage as there is too much time between contacts. Possible problems to forming attachment with care-givers that may be caused by overlooking this need for frequent contact include failure to bond with the parents and separation anxiety during time away from the primary care-giver.
The child needs to learn to become independent and separate from the parents, and needs a reassuring, stable environment and established routines for transitions between parents. Failure to pay attention to these needs may cause a child to experience separation distress and parents to have disputes over neglect or abuse because of the child’s exhibited behaviors.
If the parents can co-parent and develop a plan to meet the needs of the child, extensive contact schedules with both parents can be developed. Parenting plan options could include frequent contacts with both parents, such as three contacts of three to six hours throughout the week, or two contacts of three to six hours and one overnight, to greater contact, extended days and overnights, preferably with a nanny who goes back and forth between homes as children can form multiple attachments when they have more than one caregiver.
Caretaking arrangements should be consistent, stable, and predictable for the young child. If the child is going to spend extensive time in two or more households, the child’s room should be as identical as possible in both households, down to the detergent used to wash the clothes and bedding, and soap to wash the child.
The procedures and routine should also be as identical as possible. Arguably, consistency of feeding and sleeping schedule is more important than similar environment. The parents should consider keeping charts in a notebook to catalog the routine, eating times and amounts, bowel movements, sleep and wake cycles, and developmental milestones on a daily basis. This notebook should travel with the child.
Where there is high conflict or impairments, use of a therapist mediator will be of greater assistance.