Do your children experience separations from you such as going to daycare or spending time with their other parent (if you’re divorced)?
The following story might resonate with you…
“The hardest part of my week is passing my daughter over to her dad (we are separated). She gets so upset, screams, cries and clings to me. He says she settles really quickly but I always feel awful and worry about it. How can I help my daughter?”
First of all, some separation anxiety is totally normal. It often begins in the first year of life and is completely normal to continue on for a few months or even years.
There are a few things you can do to help your child prepare for the separation, and release the feelings she’s had about being separated from you and/ or her dad in the past.
If you’ve been following my work for awhile you’ll know that when we distract our kids from their feelings they don’t actually go away. The energy of those feelings stays in the body.
Let’s look at the example of your daughter being upset as you hand her over to her father. Let’s say her father distracts her with a lollipop, toy or her dummy. This might appear to ‘make it all better’ but your daughter is still going to have those built up feelings inside that will be effecting her behaviour.
Many kids do the same when they go to daycare. They might feel upset at separation or with things that happen during the day but have quickly learnt to push those feelings down. And it’s not til they get home in the evening to their ‘safe place’ with you, that they might have a tantrum over something little like you putting peas on their plate. And then all the feelings they had built up from the day get to be released.
So it’s not actually about the peas!
When our children come home with built up feelings we can help them by learning to accept and be present with any crying, raging, tantrums that might come up. Remember, this will often seem to be over really insignificant things (like the peas!), just be aware and remind yourself, it’s not actually about that insignificant thing, this is her trying to release those built up feelings or energy from her body about the separation or whatever else she’s experienced.
Now, I want to be clear that I’m not trying to say that separation is a ‘negative’ experience for your child. Or something else that you need to feel guilty about! It is what it is. And the best thing we can do is fully accept it. Kids experience things all day everyday. Whether it’s separation from you or something else, most young children will have something they experience that they need to release feelings about on a daily basis.
So when you can accept any crying or tantrums with as much loving presence as you can, that’s going to help your child to release any built up feelings they have in the body.
Why is that beneficial?
When our children have lots of built up feelings sitting in the body they start to feel a lot of tension and agitation in the body which tends to contribute to challenging behaviours like lots of meltdowns/ tantrums, defiance/ not willing cooperate, hitting/ aggression, throwing things/ being destructive, taking a really long time to fall asleep/ waking up a lot during the night.
So when we can help them to express their feelings rather than bottling them up, these behaviours are going to be very minimal.
Instead, our children are going to be clearer, calmer, more connected, more affectionate, giving more eye contact, able to settle into independent play, experiencing better quality sleep 🌙
You can also use play to help heal from separations and to prepare for separations beforehand. Two simple ways are through peek a boo or hide and seek. These games create small visual and spatial separations where you get to be reconnected quite quickly, so children get the opportunity to ‘play’ with separation and have a sense of power around the separation. Your child will get to feel more connected to you in the process and often they’ll release some of the tension they’re holding in the body through laughter.
What I’ve suggested here is a good starting point. If you’d like to go deeper into learning to be present and holding space for your child’s feelings, learning more about how we unconsciously push feelings down and different types of play that you can use for different scenarios, we cover all that in my program, Connect. These are really effective tools to have in your parenting toolkit.
If you have any questions, you can always get in touch through my Facebook page I’ll get back to you really soon.