Preparation & Mastery of Separation in Children
Preparation is something that perhaps, we as adults, take for granted. As adults we are intrinsically aware of what our plans for our day are and in general have some idea of what our future might bring. But to a child, all is not known. In part, their not knowing, is due to their lack of understanding the complexities that life has to offer. For example, young children cannot tell time and therefore cannot prepare themselves for an event that is to take place at a given time. In addition, little children cannot conceptualize much more than just a few minutes in duration. They experience life as “5 more minutes please?”
Simply put, the goal of preparing children for events is to help children feel ready for what might be experienced as stressful. We try to prepare them for a change, a new happening, and an event that they will be affected by. In sum, we are attempting to help children feel less overwhelmed and more in charge of their big feelings.
I am sure that we can all remember a time when we found ourselves saying “Let’s go…we have to go pick up your sister at school.” Only to be met with a response of “no” or a refusal to put on shoes, jacket, or get in the car seat. Another example might be readying for the arrival of a babysitter. All seems calm until the goodbye – the separation. In fact some goodbye times are so difficult that some parents find themselves “sneaking” out of the house just to avoid the big feelings.
I have come to know that it might be the big feelings that are so often stirred in both our children and in us that lead us to avoid a topic or avoid explaining something or preparing for an event. But, big Feelings can be managed and mastered.
At pre-school we try to find ways to help children know that it is just fine to have a feeling and that we will help them to manage their feelings. We try hard not to simply distract a crying child from a big feeling but rather, we acknowledge the feeling and help a child to feel in control. We do not overwhelm children by taking their mothers out of the classroom for long periods as this would lead to an experience of school as a scary place. Rather, we gently say to a child who is reacting to being without mommy “I see you are having a missing mommy feeling…would it help to look at mommy’s picture?” If this is not helpful, then we have mommy come back into the room.
This approach is all in our effort to aid children in Mastering separation rather than simply tolerating separation. If your child is having some difficulty early on tolerating separation, please know that this is normal and that we will help you both through this. Please feel free to stay in the classroom and take part in all activities…you do not have to sit in a chair off to the side. In fact by playing with your child they will be helped to know that you are “listening to his/her big feelings and are there to help and are not angry with them.
Why is mastery the goal? The answer to this lies in the fact that when children are helped to master, not simply tolerate, they are more likely to become excellent learners and competent school girls and school boys.