Separation from a parent is a normal part of childhood development, and of parenting too. It's marked by developmental milestones like going to daycare or preschool.
Socialization, greater mobility and a growing vocabulary all prepare children for life changes. These transitions can be hard on both sides. A parent watches from the sidelines in angst, fearful that her child will fall down after making those first few steps on her own. A child begins to feel sad when she has to say goodbye to a friend after a particularly fun play date.
Separation and anxiety
Separation is a challenge when children become intensely anxious about leaving a parent or caregiver. Some anxiety is normal and even expected. Separation is harder to manage when the anxiety becomes more intense, longlasting, and ongoing. The child who doesn't want to go to daycare is a common example. Your child may go to great lengths to stay at home with you.
How to help your child
Keep in mind that problems with separation often arise during developmental transitions like sleeping in a "big kid bed" or adjusting to a new little brother or sister.
- Ask her to share his feelings. Young children don't necessarily have the verbal skills to directly share their experiences, so have your child play or draw to learn more about her feelings.
- Observe. Take note of when the intense reaction occurs. The reactions you see in your child can guide you in efforts to manage difficult separation situations. Some children, for instance, have no problem saying goodbye after an activity or event is over. For others, the departure is tearful and painful. Identifying when separation comes up for your child is one way to be ready to respond when it does occur.
- Leave quickly. If your child is staying with a babysitter for the first time, a good rule in this situation is to try to make your departure a quick one with one solid goodbye that your child will hear. This way she’ll know you have left and will be able to transition from knowing you are there, watching you go and adjusting to being with the sitter.
First day of school
Going to school for the first time is another important transition for children. Explore ways to make the transition easier. Meet soontobeclassmates and visit the school the summer before to minimize the fear of the unknown. Many preschools have phasein programs where parents attend school with their children at the beginning of the year.
How to help yourself
- Consider your own issues. If your child gleefully leaves your embrace and runs to the classroom the minute you get to school, do you find yourself wondering, "Wait a minute! Is it that easy for her to say goodbye?" While this is a normal, human reaction, it is important to think about whether the parent's own separation issues influence the child's.
- Develop a ritual. This can be as simple as waving goodbye and blowing kisses to one another. Another tip is to make a plan a fun activity with your little one when you're reunited.
Remember this: growing up is hard to do, for children and their parents!