When a preschooler needs all the attention

I have a 5 month old son and I have a question.. Ever since the day he was born there were always 3 adults in the home with him... His mother and I just moved so now it is just the 3 of us. The 3rd adult used to be the baby's grandmother, who was very smothering, to the point of hovering. Now that we are away it seems he has a hard time entertaining himself for more than 2 minutes without throwing fits for our attention. I am concerned that this smothering of him by his grandmother, is the cause for this behavior. Do you have some tips to help all of us with this adjustment to being just three of us.

Thank you,


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Dear Paul,

Do not worry, grandma's doting is not the cause of your son's current fussiness. But his adjustment to the loss of a grandmother's special loving attention does include a mourning period of some kind. Your son is no doubt expressing his adjustments not only to the new surroundings, but especially to the loss of time with a significant attachment figure. Your baby's fussiness is his way of expressing this loss.

Your son's "fits" are likely a sign of distress rather than an attempt to only get attention for sake of entertainment. This stress is real for him and he needs extra care and attention through this period. His only way of showing you this is to "fall apart". You and his Mom will definitely need to fill in to address his very real needs for attention that are quite high in the first year of life, and especially as he is adjusting to the new situation.

He may need extra soothing at this time. Be patient and allow him to adjust in the only way a baby can...through crying and fussing. Imagine yourself in his skin for a moment. The familiar furniture, the smells, sounds and even people have changed. A baby has no control over life and must accept change without understanding. This is quite stressful! And if grandmother was a major attachment figure for him, it is important that he continue to spend some quality time with her.

You and your wife provide the buffer to life changes by holding, cooing and other forms of soothing that lets your baby know things are still all right. Being comforted through this period of adjustment will calm him and the three of you will discover your own routines and rhythms.

Keep in mind that you and/or your wife might also be doing more, and so you two may also be more grumpy than usual. Although you will no doubt enjoy your autonomy as a family, it may also increase your responsibilities and you will feel the effects of doing the work grandma used to do, which may leave you more tired and with less patience for your son. You too will adapt to the new work load.

It is also possible that if you have lived with grandmother since you became parents, you may not have realistic expectations of the demands of a 5 month old. There truly is little time that a 5 month old baby will play by himself! He may be able to entertain himself with an adult close by, for up to 10 minutes. Your son's fussiness will decrease as he adapts to your new situation. Establish daily routines and rituals, like bathing, reading to him, singing to him at bedtime. Take some time to sit quietly with him as he explores his new surroundings.

This is a time to give him more attention and comfort, not less. And though it may be taxing in the short run, it will pay off in the long term when he is a calmer little boy because of it. Your son will be capable of greater independence if his dependency needs have been met as an infant.

Comforting him through early periods of stress allow him to internalize your soothing, resulting in the capacity to calm himself in the future. Meeting his needs now creates the self-reliance you desire, later!

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