Entering Child Care
When a separation such as going into child care is on the horizon, it’s best to prepare the child (Balaban, 2006; McCracken, 1986). Imagine being the child of a mother who has been with you day and night for the first two years. Your mother suddenly decides to go back to work, and one day she drives you to a strange place and leaves you there for the entire day. How would you feel?
It’s far gentler if you can get families to visit beforehand and to keep the first experiences short, so the child gets to know the place and the people. Being left for only an hour or so in the beginning, the child learns that the parent will return after a time. If the day is gradually lengthened, the child gets used to it and it’s not such a shock.
Helping Children Adjust
Some children walk right into child care without batting an eye. They’re so intrigued with the new setting that they forget their fears. Other children cling and suffer greatly. In this case it helps if the parent can let the child make the decision to separate rather than peeling him off and walking out the door, leaving him screaming.
One program has a room for the use of parents whose children hesitate to leave them. The doorway just beyond the “separation room” is open and is filled with the sounds and sights of children playing, which serve to entice the child to leave the parent’s side. Parents are asked to be patient about the separation process, and they’re given some help and support to make it a healthy coping experience for both parent and child. Of course, everyone doesn’t have the option of a slow departure. However, if this approach is proposed and the program promotes it, more families might find ways to ease their children into the new situations and relieve some of the separation upset.
When the good-byes come, it helps to make things predictable. Some parents prefer to sneak out and miss the protests from the child. When they do that—leave the child playing without saying good-bye—trust issues arise. Instead of feeling secure, the child is left with the feeling of never knowing when the parent is there or gone. How can the child feel any power in the world if there’s no way to predict what will happen? Saying good-bye may bring tears and protests, but it’s the open, honest way of helping the child understand what’s happening. It may be hard to explain that to families, but it’s worth it.
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