Toddler Scary Separations

Blog Kathie Sarles

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

KTS 2016