Last week, a young Mother shared with me her own experience of ‘separation anxiety’. Having just left her little boy at child-care for the first time, she said that she was intensely aware of the silence in the car as she drove away. ‘I realised just how much I had grown accustomed to his chatter from the back seat and I did not enjoy the total quiet as I drove to work’. She explained that, while her little boy would only be at child care one day a week, she still felt sad as it dawned on her that the day was nonetheless a marker indicating the end of a beautiful period of intense daily interaction with her son. She commented that while at one level she always knew and accepted this would happen, at another level, she still felt a sense of loss.
She also reported feeling a little anxious as she knew she had to trust others with the care of her little boy. Would they introduce their routines to him in a way that he understood? Would they pick up those signs that he was lost or anxious or frightened?
Parents’ concern about the environment of the institutions where their child is placed is a topic of much discussion and media attention. Such concern is the reason, most frequently given, as to why millions of parents, worldwide, are now opting for home schooling. Most parents, however, realize that the withdraw option may not be the best way to assist their child to develop into a confident and resilient young person. So, how can parent’s best help their child deal with these transitions into different environments?
1. Problem ownership:
It will help the relationship with the child if the parent can own their sadness when the child enters this new phase of their life.
2. Declarative I-Message:
If however, the child does detect the parent’s sadness, the parent can send a declarative I-Message about their feelings. It could be a valuable experience for the child to hear that the parent is a real person who experiences sadness. The child may even learn a little about problem ownership because they hear that Mum or Dad is sad about the situation through a message that is honest, revealing and non-blameful.
3. Positive I-Message:
When the parent is declaring that they feel sad, they could easily add a positive I- Message about how much they enjoy their child’s company and how much they look forward to hearing about their day when they meet in the afternoon. All of this discourse in the No-
Problem area has the potential to enhance and strengthen the relationship with the child.
4. No-Problem Area:
When the opportunity arises, the parent can use the No-Problem Area to invite the child to share with them what they did at child care.
5. Preventive I-Message:
When discussing with the child their experience of child care the parent can use preventive I-Messages to prepare the child for the procedures and routines that they will experience in the child care environment. These preventive I- Messages should focus on what the parent knows will happen at the pre-school as a matter of fact. In other words, they should be used to mentally prepare the child for any procedures or routines that may be new to the child, but they should not be used to prepare them for situations that the parent imagines might occur.
Finally, the parent should employ their active listening skills if the child’s verbal or non-verbal cues indicate they have a problem in their new environment.