“Don’t take your love away from me
Don’t you leave my heart in misery
If you go then I’ll be blue
Cause breaking up is hard to do…”
Anyone old enough to remember this Neil Sedaka song? Hmmmm? Maybe not! Well, separation between parent and child can feel similar: stressful, painful and full of despair – just like that high school break-up. Separation is a developmental process, just like walking or talking, that a child learns in stages. Luckily, you can help lessen (notice I said, “lessen”!) the stress of separation for everyone involved.
The first stages of the separation/individuation process last from birth to about 16 months. Then begins the Rapprochement Phase, in which children learn to differentiate themselves from Mom. They struggle with big dilemmas: how do I remain close without losing myself, and distance without being alone? They begin to experience the “I” – a sense of self and wanting to be in control – and the “We” – our innate need to feel part of a community. In addition, children only begin developing logical, linear, cause-and-effect thinking around age 3-4. Before then, they view their environment mostly in non-verbal, image- and emotion-based ways. So from 0-4, there’s A LOT of feeling. Couple this with the dilemmas of individuation, and you’re in for an emotional roller coaster ride!!!
Now it’s time to drop off at DCP and you’re stressed – for your child and for yourself – and fearful of judgment from others. It’s important to remember that your emotional state dictates your child’s: if you are stressed, they internalize this stress. So instead, try following this simple sequence:
- Calm yourself first before trying to calm your child. Try Active Calming:
- Breathe deeply three times, exhaling longer than you inhale. This helps cut off the body’s stress response.
- Say to yourself, “I can handle this. Keep breathing.”
- Hold them in your arms, in your lap, or take their hands.
- Tell them, “You are safe. Breathe with me. I love you. I will be back for you. You are safe.” as you pat, rock or look into their eyes. Research has shown that the word “safe” has powerful effects.
We, the staff, are going to be doing some important things too. We are going to continue to tell your child that he is safe, provide a safe environment, and maintain a calm state. By ensuring safety first, your child will be able to go from survival to a calm state in which he is able to start connecting with others. Growth is possible and it all starts with helpful separation techniques! Fabulous, huh?
Information taken from Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey (Loving Guidance, Inc.)