Separation and attachment: Consequences for children
Separation comes in many forms: a parent who must go to hospital, a parent who must work and so the child goes to daycare, a parent whose work takes them away for days at a time, when a child must go to school, when parents separate . . . When a child is separated from an adult to whom they are attached it causes trauma. Detachment is the most common form of trauma in children, and it is also the most common cause of a myriad of childhood problems: anxiety, agitation, fears, phobias, clinginess, alarm response, bedtime hassles, going to school hassles . . .
Modern society wants us to grow our children up faster and separation is often falsely regarded as a good step towards helping a child mature. Therefore we encourage detachment from parents earlier and earlier – “Let them go to Kindy so they get used to being away from Mum and Dad, then they’ll settle into school better”. “Don’t talk about Dad, they’ll soon forget him or adjust to his absence.” This is a common belief amongst parents today, but it is based on a false theory. Unless a child is at a developmental stage and an attachment level where they are prepared for separation (usually between 4 -6 years of age) separation will cause damage to the child’s sense of security and to their level of attachment to their parent. While the visible damage seems to be limited to a few tears for 3 or more days, the hidden damage, which is buried alive for a time, will likely go on to provide further parenting problems in the future.
Children actually never need separation in order to teach them independence or maturity. Detachment does not teach this. Detachment at the wrong time only teaches a child that they can’t rely on their significant adult, separation at the wrong time teaches a child to build walls of defense in their hearts, separation at the wrong time teaches a child to attach to someone else.
So, what do parents do then, when separation is inevitable, when it can’t be helped or avoided? How can a parent minimize the damage that this separation will cause? And what about Step parenting? How can step parents be part of the solution and not the problem?
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Separation often creates anxiety in children. If your child is anxious you may want to consider this article too.