Toddler Scary Separations
How to Cope When Your Child Screams and Clings and Won’t Let GO!
As your child grows and develops, the need for independence and self -identity becomes strong. But along with the very strong need to pull away from the protective cocoon (the family), is the need to stay safe. You provide that safe feeling whether your child is with you or not. Providing structure, unconditional love and a safe environment in your home gives your child what he needs to attempt new routines and connect to new caregivers and ultimately separate from you. Remember, a child’s need for independence often shows itself in negative behavior, but how you handle those moments shapes how long that negativity lasts! T. Barry Brazelton says, “When you understand that the pain of separation, is first, a parental issue, you can learn to handle it.”
Tips to Help with Separation:
- Relax (take a deep breath), this is a normal part of the conflict of the developing self: wanting independence vs. their need for parental safety net.
Be confident in your decision. Your child responds to your emotions. If you are stressed, behaviors will increase; if you are calm your child will respond better.
Be a prepared parent: Help your child understand what is about to happen.
- If possible take pictures of the situation: the teacher, the child care or Grandma’s. Look at the pictures together and remind your toddler that everything will be OK even though right now he is feeling scared. You might even try creating a book with the pictures to help (social story).
At the very least remind him with clear, simple and positive words of what is happening, where he is going. Follow up with a fun thing that will happen there: focusing on positive thoughts.
- Accept the strong response like crying, clinging or a tantrum. It may happen. Be consistent and calm and repeat a calming phrase like, “I am sorry you are sad now, but I know you will have fun.” Do not get upset or start to bribe or offer alternatives; this changes the focus. Remember your child will be able to do this on his own soon.
Whenever possible give your child choices: “Do you want to bring bear or book?” Or, “do you want to march or jump in… I will do what you do!”
When you leave, make sure you give you child a transition item to keep.
- This could be something of yours personally or something from home.
Then say something like, “I love you and know you will have fun with… Jenny or grandma, Mommy ( Daddy ) will pick you up after work.” Then leave! ( easier said than done).
When you return say, “I bet you are so proud of yourself! You stayed here all day …. You did it!”
Find out what the child did that day that was a happy time, and remind him/ her of this tomorrow when he needs to go back.
- Remember as a parent you are your child’s secure object; you are their rock; letting go can be scary for your child and for you!
The pain of this initial separation will be balanced by her and your awareness that she needs to separate. The attraction of other children and group activities balances the pain of leaving the safe coziness of home” T Berry Brazleton
Boosting Baby's Brain
Your baby’s brain is growing and growing and growing! At birth, her brain is 25% of its adult volume, but by age 3, her brain will have grown to 80% of its full size. Between conception and age three, a child’s brain undergoes an impressive amount of change. At birth, it already has about all of the neurons it will ever have. (Urban Child Institute).
What does this mean for us as parents? Experiences, both positive and negative, affect the way your baby’s brain develops. Your decision to talk, play, read and sing to your baby will increase the firing of the neurons that make important connections within the structure of the brain. New experiences build on what your baby already knows. Bathing, dressing, feeding and diapering all offer opportunities to interact in a positive way with your baby. Using those routines as a foundation; you can easily add to the experience, following your baby’s lead and responding to her cues.
The brain is divided into two distinct sections; the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. The left part of the brain is the part that desires order, logic &sequence. It is also the side that regulates language, while your right brain is holistic, nonverbal, and emotion driven. The right brain likes the big picture rather than details that the left brain favors.
Babies and very young children can be seen as right brain dominant. That makes sense doesn’t it? Yet it is easy to forget, as our adult brains are integrated and therefore able to use both sides as we go about our daily interactions. Dan Siegel author of the Whole Brain Child tells us that we need to, “integrate the left and the right brain” He further states, “The good news is that by using everyday moments, you can influences how well your child’s brain grows toward integration.”
Parents can do many things to influence the growth of whole brain and the integration of the two hemispheres. First and foremost parents can create routines. Zero to Three, a National Non-Profit Organization states, “Young children thrive on predictability-knowing what to expect. It helps them feel safe and secure, and it helps them learn to anticipate what will come next. This sense of predictability also helps them understand sequences and patterns as they grow which are important for learning language literacy and math skills.” Once routines are established, create time within the day for exploration of new faces, situations and materials and play back and forth games; following your child’s cues: facial expressions, actions and sounds ( words).
Zero to Three also states that parents need to see themselves as the “coach” not the “fixer”. “Children learn through trial and error. Your job is not to solve the problem your child is facing, but to help him develop the problem solving skills that will help him feel confident to master the many challenges he will face as he grows. This process builds brain power and the motivation to learn.”
All early relationships and experiences matter. Parents need to be aware that negative experiences are just as much a factor in the developing brain as positive ones. Donald Hebb PhD. Reminds us, " cells that fire together, wire together." This is especially true in the brain’s critical years of growth ( 0-3).
For more information on your baby’s the developing brain: www.zerotothree.org