Separating from Infants and Toddlers (page 3)
Separating from our loved ones is a lifelong process. If you think of separation in the broadest terms, it begins at birth and ends at death. In a more limited way, it happens every day as we say good-bye to various members of our family when we or they go to work, school, child care or the corner store.
While each family handles these daily separations in its own way, the act of leaving our very youngest children in the care of another is what seems to cause the most stress. Adjusting to such a separation may challenge individual parents in different ways. Separating will also be a different process with each individual child in a family or with each child care provider along the way. The sadness or anxiety caused by initial separations can resurface as children grow older and can be triggered by many different kinds of situations, such as travel, illness or the birth of a sibling.
Separation Can Be Extremely Hard For Working Parents
Many working parents who grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s came from families in which the mother worked in the home, and for many the belief still lingers that that’s where mothers belong. In addition, the workplace has not yet adapted to the needs of working families. Many mothers strive to be good employees while remaining “old fashioned moms” – doing all things for everyone. The situation can cause a tremendous amount of guilt, stress and feelings of inadequacy as a parent. If you choose to work, or have no choice but to work, you will need to find ways to keep these feelings at a manageable level.
Separation as Growth Opportunity
Despite the stresses separations can cause, there are ways to ease the “pain” and turn this process into an opportunity. It can be a time for parents to examine their fears, beliefs and goals and to reaffirm their love and attachment to their children. For children, mastering separation at an early age can lay the foundation to meet this and other challenges with trust and confidence throughout life. We hope that some of the following suggestions work for you as your child enters the world of child care.
Know Yourself, Know Your Child
Being a parent is hard work. As parents, we try to make the best decisions we can for our children and it is important for us to be as clear as possible about these parenting choices. That’s why we need to spend time thinking about the past, the present and the future before planning for our children.
Think about your answers to some very important statements:
When I was a child, I thought my parent(s) worked/stayed home because... I was taken care of by... I thought this person was... When my parent left me, I felt... I work because... If I didn’t have to work, I would... Before I had a child, I thought I would... When I look for child care, I want my child to be... I want child care which is... I want my child’s caregiver to... When I’m away from my child, I feel...
Also, think about your child.
My child’s temperament is... When my child is away from me, s/he reacts by... My child likes to do these activities... My child handles transitions by... My child likes people who... My child is comforted by... My child sleeps best when... My child eats well when...
Stay in touch with your feelings and think about how your child will react to separating from you. This is the first step to take when you decide to leave your little one with a caregiver in or outside your home. This selfexamination may bring a number of issues and anxieties to the surface. Most parents have some of the following concerns:
Will my baby love the provider more than me? and “Will my baby be loved?”
Experience and research show that babies become deeply attached to their parents. The sadness that you and your baby experience when separating is evidence of that deep love. But babies can also respond with affection to others as long as their basic needs are met. This ability to “attach” to others does not dilute the affection they feel towards you. Just as babies can expand the circle of important people in their lives, child care providers can become very attached to their small charges in ways that do not interfere with the children’s relationships with their parents.
Will my child be damaged in some way because child care is bad for children?
Child care can be a rich and rewarding experience for a child. Babies growing up with mom at home in a nuclear family are now the exception, not the norm, and in most cultures, other people in addition to parents assist in rearing children. For “only” or firstborn children, child care can provide those missing sibling experiences which help a child learn to give and take. A number of studies have clearly demonstrated that quality child care does not in any way harm children and is, in fact, beneficial.
Will my child be free from harm?
Naturally, a safe environment is important in a child care setting, be it in or out of your home. If you are hiring an in-home caregiver, consider contacting TrustLine, California’s background check for in-home caregivers at www.trustline.org or (800) 822- 8490. Likewise, you can call Community Care Licensing, 622-2614, to check the complaint history of licensed child care providers. Knowing what discipline methods a provider uses will also help you feel more comfortable. Your vigilance should not stop once you have decided on your child care situation. You can always drop in on your caregiver in your own home and you have the right to visit your child’s program at any time. On the other hand, accidents do happen. Be prepared for some.
Will my child get sick more often after s/he begins child care?
Probably. This is a time when any guilt you have about leaving your baby will resurface. While children in large child care settings get sick more often, many times this exposure to illness at an early age confers some immunity so that they do not get sick as frequently when they are older. Nonetheless, you will want to be prepared by knowing your employer’s sick leave policy and your caregiver’s policy on sick children attending care. You should also look for alternative caregivers (friends, neighbors, relatives) for those times when your baby is too sick for her regular child care and you cannot stay home.
You may have additional concerns. Write them down and think of questions you can ask yourself, your spouse, your partner, your friends, potential providers to clarify whatever issues trouble you. Consider some of the reading resources listed at the end of this Handout. You can also call the BANANAS WarmLine to discuss your concerns. Letting go is not easy. But remember that you must learn to live with your decisions and communicate confidence in the situation to your child. To do that, you must have done all your “homework” – including spending time thinking about what working will mean for you and your family.
Prepare Your Baby
Prepare your child by assuring that his or her physical needs (such as eating, sleeping and pacifying) can be provided by someone other than yourself. If you are nursing your baby, make sure s/he can also drink from a bottle or cup. While there is no reason to stop breastfeeding, revise your nursing schedule so your child nurses at the times you will be together after the baby is in care. By doing this your breast milk can remain a source of nourishment if you so choose. (See our Handout, “Breastfeeding & Working” for more information.)
Look at how your baby goes to sleep. If you always nurse the baby to sleep, the transition will be harder for both the child and the provider. Begin early to teach your child other ways to fall asleep – listening to music, using a pacifier, falling asleep alone with a favorite cuddly toy, or rocking in a cradle.
When developmentally appropriate (five months and older), play hideand- seek games like peek-a-boo, with your baby. Hide a favorite toy under a cloth and encourage your little one to pull it off to find the toy. These games help children learn to say good-bye and hello over and over again. Talk to your baby when you leave the room for even a moment. “Mommy is going in the bedroom to get your blanket, but I’ll be right back.” Leaving for short periods of time and returning helps babies learn to tolerate separation. Even very young children will soon recognize that things (and parents) can go away and reappear.
Use occasional care provided by friends or relatives to get your baby and yourself used to the idea of having another person provide care. Success with occasional care sets the stage for a successful transition to child care.
Reprinted with the permission of BANANAS, Inc. © 2007 BANANAS
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