Child Development: Why Your 9-Month-Old Baby Is So Difficult All Of A Sudden

I had an amazing conversation with one of the world's foremost infant researchers last week, Dr. Joseph Campos. He's at Berkeley, where he's churned out tons of scientifically rigorous studies about the developmental changes in infancy. He's come up with some transformative ideas about babies, the upshot of one being that crawling causes your baby to become your little social partner, for the first time. No longer just a passive lump in the social world, now she's able to start to understand some of what's going on inside your mind. She understands how important you are to her, and seeks your emotional support, presence and encouragement as she starts to scoot out into the world under her own power. She now gets reassurance from your presence and your emotions -- your facial expressions and body language -- not just from physically holding her. Super Cute, and Super Challenging

The flip side of this is that it also causes clinginess, fussiness, and sleep problems -- some of the major complaints of parents at this stage. Turns out, crawling out into the wide world is fascinating -- and terrifying. Your little adventurer gets it now -- that as much as she wants to venture out on her own, she desperately needs you, and is panicked that she'll lose you somewhere along the way. As Dr. Campos said to me, the baby's drive for independence is equally matched by her fear of it.

So to you fellow parents of 9 to 12-month-old babies out there: I know it can be a challenging, difficult stage. Your little bug seems content to scramble around the house one minute, then wails in panic the next. What used to be stable sleep habits are now in a shambles. Feeding --and nursing -- has become an unpredictable struggle -- and separations are exceptionally difficult. And forget diaper changes! What a wrestling match! Immmobility is the enemy to her now -- being restrained in any way is bound to be a fight. High chairs, strollers and car seats are demon baby torture devices. They keep her from exploring her brave new world.

What to do? Re-think your daily tasks with this knowledge in mind. Everything will take a little longer, as your baby goes through this unpredictable (but temporary) stage. Some days she may need you constantly. But don't worry -- when you've finally reached the end of your rope with your little Clingon, she'll start to feel "refueled", and venture out again -- allowing you to catch up on that laundry and email. And make sure you get some help with nighttime wakenings -- you'll need extra rest too, since you're up again with a fussy baby -- but don't forget to reinforce the sleep routines that have worked well in the past. She'll eventually remember what her job is, at night -- and now that her memory is better, she can hold on to her internal image of you a bit longer, giving her some comfort, despite being away from you to sleep. Feel some reassurance knowing that the earlier -- and stronger -- your baby shows separation anxiety, the sooner it resolves. Lots of parental support and understanding help her get through this challenging -- but remarkable -- stage.

Dr. Campos was generous and encouraging in my BabyShrink book-writing project, and I had a blast geeking out with him, picking his brain about the amazing new developmental capacities in normal 9-month-old babies. What a great experience! Now, please excuse me -- I've got a 9-month-old baby clinging to my leg.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: What To Do About Strange Toddler Fears

I've gotten a lot of traffic lately on Strange and Sudden Toddler Fears. I've written on this before (and included a link at the end of this post), but this is such a common question that I've decided to answer it's latest incarnation, hopefully with some additional insights. Here goes: Dear Dr. Heather,

Just in the past week, my 2.5 year old has developed a fear of "going byebye", getting in the car, sitting in the car while getting gas, going outside in the snow. She screams and does what sounds like hyperventilating, but she isn't. Her dad just went on a trip for a week and it seemed to worsen then. She used to love the snow and going for car rides. Now all of a sudden she's hysterical. I don't know if maybe she feels out of control with daddy being gone. She absolutely thrives on routine. Maybe she felt safer just staying home. She was a little "weirded-out" when my husband first came home and she wanted me to hold her, but she warmed up quickly. Any tips you have would be wonderful. Thank you.


Hi Jacki,

Toddlers often develop these quirky preferences and fears, seemingly all of a sudden. Partly it has to do with their growing awareness that scary things CAN happen; parents go away, kids get hurt, things get broken or spill, etc. Yet they cannot yet totally compute how to PREVENT those things from happening. It also has to do with their OWN aggressiveness -- they see how they get mad and run away from a person or situation when they are mad, or lash out and hit etc, and worry that OTHERS will do the same thing (even if those others have never been aggressive at all). It's a completely different mindset than that of an adult (or even a bigger kid).

I would let her regress back a bit for awhile until she gets re-acclimated to her Dad's departure and return. Be extra reassuring, and stay home more when it's possible. Go out gingerly and on a limited basis, if you can, until she gets back into the swing of it. GIVE HER BACK SOME OF THE CONTROL. Allow her to make choices about going out, if you can. See if there IS anyplace she would like to go -- to the park? Grandma's? Out for ice cream? And then go there. Little by little, try to sneak in additional outings, and let her know in advance of your plans. You won't always be able to do it her way, and talk her through that. I know you don't want to go to the store today, but we need more groceries. Do you want to go to the store AND to McDonald's today, or just to the store? Giving her some choices will help her feel better. Then, as she grows more comfortable again, cut back on the rewards and incentives. You don't want her to be in the "driver's seat" forever, just until she gets comfortable again.

Try that and let us know how it goes!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

And here's another popular post on toddler fears (this one is about Bathtub Fears).


Dear Dr. Heather,

Thank you so much for your help! I tried your suggestions. She got very upset at first, but I talked her thru it and gave her time to adjust. We stopped at McDonalds on the way. She did fine thru the drive-thru. She seemed better doing something familiar. She may be on her way back to herself. I won't press it too much. She seems much more settled when I reassure her that daddy is coming home at night. I think I panicked because this went on for a week, and a week can seem like forever! Now she at least talks about going outside w/o panicking. I am glad to know that someone like you is available for these times. I appreciate it.

Jacki ~~My pleasure, Jacki! Glad to Help!

Pregnancy Help: Tips & Resources For Coping With Postpartum Depression

I'm not prone to depression; I'm more of an anxious type, with a tendency to overreact and sweat the small stuff. So when our (4th) baby is born (I'm 30 weeks along now, folks!), I'm anticipating some hormonal upheavals (as well as the excruciating sleep deprivation that comes along with a new baby), but not depression per-se. But as a clinician, I'm very concerned about the high rate of postpartum mood disorders, as well as the tendency of new mothers to ignore or deny their symptoms. Many of you have written to me, with stories of untreated PPD in your pasts, begging me to help get the word out to moms who might be experiencing the condition now. POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION IS ONE OF THE MOST TREATABLE DISORDERS WE KNOW. If you, or someone you know, might have PPD, PLEASE help her to get help...immediately. You can show her this article, which is a nice, straightforward review of the condition, and you can also listen to my 16-minute, free podcast on PPD.

And I know you don't read BabyShrink for a dose of politics, but the situation regarding health care in America is at a point of critical mass. Insufficient numbers of primary care services in this country result in our missing PPD far more than we diagnose it. This is especially true in rural and semi-rural areas -- where many of us live. We MUST reform our health care system to ensure that ALL women are screened for PPD -- and given the treatment that we know works -- for the benefit of their babies, their families, and themselves. And that will only happen if we reform health care to emphasize the prevention and wellness approaches that we know WORK. Treating PPD isn't the hard part. Reforming health care IS. But it must be done. Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Help for a Jealous 3-Year-Old

There are still more people to thank, as I celebrate the first year of BabyShrink. But questions keep pouring in, so I thought I'd post this one today. It's from a mom struggling with the "Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde" attitude change in her 3-year-old, following her new baby's birth: Hi Dr. Heather!

I have a 3-year-old daughter and a 2-month-old son. I was working full-time and had my daughter in daycare (where she was the apple of everyone's eye) up until a few months ago. I stopped working and pulled her out of daycare to spend some "quality time" with her before the baby arrived.

Things were great for the first week or so, and then everything went downhill. I was trying to keep up with daycare by drawing with her, teaching her the alphabet, numbers, and how to write her name and other small words. She had fun in the beginning, but would start to become very upset and not want to have anything to do with it. She also started this "shy" thing. She hides behind me when we go anywhere and doesn't want to talk to family...she tells them she is shy. All of this has led to a lot of frustration between the two of us. I can't understand why she clammed up all of a sudden and have begun to lose my patience. She, obviously, doesn't understand why I am frustrated, which has made it an endless cycle of irritation between us.

After our son arrived, and she began to realize he needs attention as well (I include her with everything I possibly can), life became even more rough for her. She basically does anything for attention, positive or negative. I decided to enroll her in a Montessori school just to get her out of the house and interacting with others again (and I needed some sanity after sleepless nights). This has turned into a chore as well. Getting ready in the mornings is a nightmare. She is the happiest child alive when she first wakes up...then as soon as I try to get her into the morning routine...her world turns upside down. "I don't like this." "I don't want to do that." I mean...she can't even get herself dressed in the mornings! I am also concerned that she is doing everything backwards, upside down, and inside out. Letters, numbers, clothes, name it. Is this an early sign of a learning disability? Could this be the root of our problems? The frustration just builds and builds.

I don't know what to do. I try to nurse my 2-month-old before she wakes up so I can spend some time with her in the mornings (just us)...but everything just blows up in my face.

I love my daughter to pieces and want life to be happy again for her. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you! G.

Hi G.,

I've been there myself. Your little angel becomes a terror when a new baby arrives on the scene. You try hard to arrange for some rare "special attention", but they throw it back in your face. And your daughter is old enough to know which buttons to push to get you upset.

But don't forget that kids REGRESS when a new baby comes on the scene. They also famously behave way worse for you, as opposed to a teacher. So your plans for "keeping up the schooling" after she came home were perhaps doomed to fail.

Getting ready in the morning (or NOT) is also a famous 3-year-old strategy for making parents nuts. So please don't worry that your daughter is unusual or abnormal -- she's not at all, from what you tell me. (Of course I can't evaluate her myself, so take what I say with a grain of salt, and check with her pediatrician to make sure).

All you can do is DIAL BACK YOUR EXPECTATIONS, try to EMPATHIZE WITH HER SITUATION, and try to TAKE THE EMOTION OUT OF YOUR REACTION TO HER. This doesn't mean you should allow her to monopolize every situation; she needs to remember how to wait her turn and share. But you have to go back several steps in the "lesson plan" for her behavior. She's been hit by a ton of bricks, in terms of a new baby on the scene, and she's old enough to understand how much it jeopardizes her previous place in the sun.

You, as well, are in a different place -- you're exhausted with a new baby, and upset with your daughter. HANG IN THERE. This is sort of a "do whatever works" time. I know you want -- and need -- some kind of routine and predictability, but right now, you just need to get through each day as reasonably as possible. If she wears her pajamas to Montessori once in awhile -- so what? If she's late sometimes -- so what? She's only 3.

Focus on what she IS doing right. Praise her mightily when she behaves "like a big girl who knows how to wait for her turn so nicely". Make her into your "helper" with her brother, and point out what she is able to do -- and what he's NOT yet able to do. When she regresses into a tantrumming 2-year-old, take a deep breath and try not to over-react. YES, she knows better, but she's just not capable of it that second. Don't take it personally, just deal with her as a 2-year-old in that moment. And when she's a little angel again, don't hold a grudge, even if she was a little devil only a minute ago (easier said than done, I know, but keep trying).

About her doing everything backwards and inside-out; it's tough to say, but usually we don't diagnose a formal learning problem until second grade. She's obviously upset with you, and she knows it makes you upset when she does things backwards. So again, dial back your expectations and let that stuff go for awhile. You will have plenty of formal schooling time and firm rules for school in her future, but relax while she's still in preschool. Try to get in some fun "big girl time" when she is open to it, but don't put the pressure on her that "the baby is asleep and so we have to make the most of our time together!" If it happens, it happens. If not, maybe next time.

HANG IN THERE, and let us know how it goes.

Click here for a related post; this on one a 5-year-old who started hitting her new baby brother.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Parenting Tips: Separation Anxiety and Daycare. Can't a Dad Get a Break?

First, I want to thank you, my readers, for giving me such great suggestions. Tons of you submitted questions and ideas for posts, and I'm diligently responding, writing, (and plotting and scheming on site improvements!) Many of your questions centered around babies and infant development, so I thought Backpacking Dad's question was perfect:

Hiya Babyshrink!

The last few times I've gone to the gym I've had to turn around almost immediately and head home. My once delightful, friendly, playful, and charming 13-month-old daughter turns into a wailing ball of snotty tears when I try to drop her at the gym day care center now.

It's made me wonder if they did something there that she's afraid of (although I don't rationally believe this, it's the crazy worry that I have when faced with this inexplicable reaction).

I'd hate to stop going to the gym. And the child care there is highly recommended by parents I respect, and I personally like all of the girls who work there. I also don't want to reinforce any "if I cry he'll take me home" attitude she might have begun developing.

In talking with one mom there, who is also a pre-school teacher, she said that kids go through peaks and valleys, sometimes very comfortable with everybody, and other times, suddenly and briefly, hating being separated from mom and dad. Since this is the first time in a year that my daughter has manifested any such attitude I'm not sure if it's just a phase or if there is a problem that I need to work through with her.

Thanks, Backpacking Dad.

Hi Backpacking Dad,

Between about 10- 18 months, there's a peak in Separation Anxiety, based on your baby's newfound independence from you. SHE can now walk away from YOU...get around the house by herself, even lose sight of you as she explores. As exciting as that is, it also scares the daylights out of her. If SHE can go away from YOU...then YOU can certainly go away from HER.....and so you do, at the gym. Did you study Ainsworth and Attachment Theory in undergrad, by chance? If not, here's a link to a classic psychological/developmental theorist who addresses just this issue.

Jakestanding_3 Now, you say that you trust the daycare people at the gym, so I would assume nothing bad happened there. It's worthwhile to ask them, though, if there was a bossy kid around her one day? Or perhaps she witnessed a tearful separation with another child and parent? Anything to give you a clue. Use the daycare people as a resource; ask them for suggestions and advice.

But the bottom line is this: Your daughter is facing a really difficult life lesson in separation and reunification.

It's important that you help her through it by being supportive, but not denying that separations will occur.

She's still not 100% sure that you WILL RETURN when you do go away from her. And there's no way to learn but through experience.

PHOTO: When they start walking, they make the scary realization that YOU can walk away from THEM, too.

Plus, as you say, you don't want to give her the message that her tears will be so powerful that she can control important adult activities.

Having supportive daycare people, plus an understanding Dad, will help her to learn this important life lesson and skill in a way that will help her deal with the issue productively in the future.

I also think it's important to model for her that you value some adult time, and your own health, by sticking to a workout schedule. You can be very understanding with her about it: Talk with her frequently about what you see as her fears. Be reassuring. Remind her that you will return. Tell her you know she might cry a little. But her teacher Ms. So-and-So will be there to help her feel better while you're exercising. And then when you return, you'll both be so happy!

Talk to the teacher first, to let her know you expect a reaction from your daughter.

Plan it out in advance. Don't try to sneak out.

Be upfront and matter-of-fact with your daughter about it. "I know you'll be sad, but you'll be fine. See you soon!" And then leave. If you must, listen by the door, or have someone check in on her after 5 minutes. I almost guarantee she'll be fine after a few minutes of tears. (She may protest an extra while at first, since her crying DID deter you from exercising in the past, so surely she'll try it out again. But stick with it.)

I know it's heartbreaking to see your baby in such distress. I know your instinct is to rush in and make it better for her. But she's a toddler now...the baby rules don't apply as much anymore. She's older and sturdier now, psychologically. She's ready to plow into this difficult life lesson. And she's so lucky to have a caring, thoughtful Dad like you to help her through it in a good way!

If you're worried that she might develop "abandonment fears" from being left at daycare, let me give you an example of how that MIGHT happen: If you took her to a gym that she'd never been to before, and where you had no knowledge of the quality of the teachers, and you didn't give her any time to "warm up" to the situation, and you just left her there for a couple of hours, without explaining that you were going, or that you would return, or providing any reassurance. Just dumped her there. THAT'S what you would NOT want to do. But you're so far away from that!

Know that this is good for Erin, AND good for you.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Post Script After a nice discussion with Backpacking Dad about this, he let me know that Erin started walking the following weekend! Surely, her developmental changes were disturbing her usual acceptance of the separation at the gym. But he and his wife kept trying, and after a few minutes of tears, his daughter settled back into her nice gym-daycare routine.  Nice going, Shawn! And check out his backpacking  "dadventures"  here at his blog!

Toddler Behavior: My Child Has A Fear Of Being Alone

Dear BabyShrink, My 4-year-old has a sincere fear of being alone. She’ll drop whatever she is doing to follow someone out of a room if she realizes she’s the last one in it. She is most definitely NOT SHY; she is extremely gregarious and lights up a room. When I ask her why she doesn’t want to be alone, she just says, “because no one’s there with me." She’s never mentioned monsters or bad dreams. Is this something she’ll grow out of? I’d like to eventually go to the bathroom by myself, if you catch my drift!



Dear Kristen,

Sounds like you've got an extremely social little girl on your hands!  I've got one of those, too.  I can certainly understand how she feels -- people are just more fun to be around! Especially when you can walk and talk and do all those other "big girl" things she can now do.  But it is important to encourage her to play by herself now and then, and this will stretch into longer periods of time of "self-directed activity", which will be really important once she starts school.

You can try starting really small -- while you're together, and she is feeling good and really engaged in some kind of play, say something like, "Oops!  I have to ....."(turn on the dishwasher, grab a glass of water, etc.).  Then leave the room, for like TWO SECONDS.  Then make a grand re-entrance..."See?  Here I am.  I just turned on the dishwasher, and now I'm back with you."  Then re-engage in play with her.  Slowly stretch out these mini-interludes so that she slowly but surely gets used to you being gone for bits at a time.  When she makes a leap (and you're finally able to go pee by yourself...what a concept!), make a big deal out of how GROWN UP she is for waiting nicely while Mommy pees, and how HELPFUL it is to Mommy that she can wait for a few minutes, and now....let's play TOGETHER some more! So you're using the time together as a reward for her being patient for a few minutes.

Try that, Kristen, and let us know how it works!


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink