North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service

Separation: Ways to Ease the Pain of Everyday Losses

Being separated from the people or things we really care about in our lives can be a very painful experience. Any parent who has had to leave a crying, clingy or screaming child in the care of someone else knows the guilt and uncertainty such a situation can cause.

Parents who recognize the signs of separation anxiety and work to prepare their child will reap the reward for years to come. When children feel secure they will have an easier time developing friendships, separating from parents and others, and carrying out their tasks with confidence. These are all important skills for children who will someday leave home and head off to school.

Preparing Parents

Parents need to be certain that their children will be safe and well cared for. Careful screening of prospective child care providers is a must. Parents and providers who communicate well with each other and who share common goals and values are more likely to build the kind of relationship that the child will see as safe and caring.

When parents are convinced that the care situation is great and that separation is sad but necessary, children will pick up on the adult lead and adjust quickly.

Children who protest being separated from their parents are showing that they've formed an attachment, that they care about that person. This is a big step in a child's development.

Parents often worry when the child who has been going to care without trouble for weeks or months or years suddenly refuses to go. The difficulty may not have as much to do with the changes at child care as they do with the changes the child is experiencing in her development.

Adults should refrain from talking about the child care provider or situation in negative terms. Even casual comments such as, "I'm worried that he won't like the other kids," or "I'm afraid she won't speak up and get what she needs," can make the child feel that the parent is worried or afraid about care.

Preparing Children

Preparation is best done in small steps. Infants and toddlers love to play peek-a-boo with their parents. The child is anxious when the adult disappears and squeals with delight when he or she returns again. If the beloved adult hesitates too long, the child's anxiety will quickly turn to tears.

Preschool children also need to be prepared for a smooth separation.

Here are some suggestions that may make the transition from parent to teacher or provider a little smoother.

Preparing Parents and Children

Caregivers can help parents and children by:

At the End of the Day

Keep a notebook handy in the car to jot down your thoughts and lists from the day. Now you're ready to pick up your child who wants and needs your full attention. Bring a healthy snack to share. Expect some rejection or other negative behaviors for a while if the separation was difficult in the morning.

Separation Comes in Many Forms

Preschool children may be especially attached to a particular stuffed animal, toy, blanket, pillow, doll or even piece of clothing. Losing or forgetting a favored item or laundering a favorite shirt may cause some trauma. Try to avoid separating from too many favorites at one time.

Children this age may also have a hard time going to bed because they're frightened you won't be there when they awaken.

Practice and positive experiences with these inevitable separation times will eventually make the situations easier.

This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with preschoolers by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your extension agent for more parenting information and other home economics programs.

Parenting Preschoolers, Issue No. 11

NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam era veterans status, or sexual orientation; and are an equal opportunity employer.
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North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service