6 ways to deal with separations

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Whether it be their first day of daycare or Kindy or back to school for our little ones saying goodbye to their adults can be hard (for them & us!)

Some tips to supporting your separations include: Prepare, Practice, Project Confidence, Expect Emotions, Emit Empathy & Empower. Read along as I unpack these thoughts.

1. Prepare

This involves preparing the practical aspects such as lunch boxes, laying out clothing, shoes, bags etc.
It also includes spending time visiting or driving past the school, seeing the classroom, meeting the teacher and talking about the details.

Toddlers thrive on specific details. It supports their brains to anticipate and often invites more cooperation and regulation. ‘ e.g. ‘When it’s time to go to school, we will walk up that pathway and go inside the yellow door and say hello to Sarah. She will take care of you. I will say goodbye, and you might feel excited for the day and the activities you will do like playdough & painting, but you also might feel sad to say goodbye. We can also be happy and look forward to when I come back after lunchtime, and we will go home together.

By discussing the specifics like this, we are actually building an image in our child’s minds so they can imagine themselves actually doing it. This build confidence and familiarity with the upcoming events.

Some prep ideas that can be super helpful include:

  • Creating a book with photos of your child, their daycare/school, their classroom, their teacher, you waving goodbye, you cuddling them upon reuniting and as many details as you can and read it together
  • Creating a routines board using polaroid photos of your child doing all the tasks prior to drop off. These may include getting dressed, brushing teeth, having breakfast, putting on shoes, getting the bag, arriving at school etc. You could also create an afternoon & nighttime routine as a predictable awareness of their day can bring a sense of security.

2. Practice

This builds on discussing the details and involves role-playing the entire process. You can begin by practising getting ready for school, getting on their bag and practice saying goodbye, walking to another room and then coming back! This will solidify that you will always return and allow the child to predict the separation and reunification process and all the feelings that go along. These types of role-playing scenarios can be powerful in the process of developing regulation.

3. Project confidence

As parents, we can often feel nervous or even guilty for sending our little ones off to other quality care. It is essential to tune into your own parent narrative about the situation because how you are feeling about it will be picked up by your child even if you are trying to put on a brave face. I suggest the following reflections to support you:

Ask yourself:

  • Have I chosen care arrangements or the school I really believe is best for my child?
  • What are my reasons for sending them off to alternative care?
  • Am I comfortable with the caregivers and style of caregiving?

These reflection types will help you solidify the reasons for your decision and build your confidence in the new arrangement. It is a difficult & emotional transition for parents, too, so this process is important, and once you feel confident about it, this will then translate to your child.

4. Expect emotions-

Transitions, new caregivers, and separation from a parent are tricky for little ones, so expect emotions. We naturally want our child to be excited and happy, but It is ok and quite expected for them to feel nervous, sad or unsure. The best thing we can do to support them is to welcome these feelings and not distract them from feeling the way they feel. Some of their lower intensity feelings about the new situation may show up behaviourally. They may be reluctant to get ready or demand things a certain way. If you notice these things try to get curious as all behaviour is communication, e.g. ‘I wonder if you feel a little upset about going to school today?’ It is important to keep boundaries and consistency during these times, too, as they provide great security to your child.

5. Emit empathy

With the possibility of boundary-pushing and emotional expressions, your role is to try your best to acknowledge & truly empathise with them. Empathy can look like acknowledging their feelings and can also look like sharing your own experiences and feelings, e.g. ‘I know it’s hard sometimes to go back to school. Sometimes, when I’ve had a holiday from work, I feel a bit nervous on my first day back, but I start to feel better once I get started. ‘

6. Empower

Threading together all these strategies will help your little ones to adjust to their new care with confidence & build resilience. A few ideas to empower them in practical ways include-

  • Keep goodbyes confident. Once you have said goodbye in a special way (you may like to come up with a ritual you follow, e.g. a special squeeze or a love signal), then hand them over to be cared for and leave confidently. This will send them messages of security and don’t worry you can always request a call if they remain unsettled however, even if you leave while they are teary or distraught, it is really common for that to be short-lived.
  • Read the book ‘The Invisible String’ and talk about even when you are apart, you are always attached to each other by the invisible string. You may even like to draw a little heart on each of your hands that you can look at in the day and think about one another
  • Make a little bracelet for each other- one that says ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ and one that says the child’s name, you wear their name, and they wear yours
  • Talk to them after school about their day, and when they are having a hard time the next day, you can help to link them to at least one thing or person they can look forward to

I hope these ideas help to support these times of separation. You’ve got this! Sending big love to you and your little ones as you all settle into a new norm.

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About the author

Mandy Richardson is a qualified Early Childhood Educator and also holds a Masters in Childhood Studies. She is currently completing her PhD in Respectful Parenting Methods. She is passionate about promoting a positive parent-child relationship and a natural, slow paced, peaceful and fulfilling childhood.

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