In a child’s perfect world, the people he’s closest to would be available 24/7. But separations are a necessary and inevitable part of life. Whether it’s for work, exercise, chores, errands, time to reconnect with a spouse or friends, or just to save one’s sanity, parents (and other beloved caregivers) need to leave. The person who remains with the infant, toddler or preschooler is then left to handle what is often an unhappy situation.
Infant specialist Magda Gerber encouraged parents and caregivers to embrace this time together with honesty. Most of us have the strong temptation to distract a crying child with games, songs, or toys, to discount her feelings by telling her it’s okay and she shouldn’t cry. But to ensure healthy emotional development, a child’s feelings of fear and loss during separation need to be expressed and heard, not erased or invalidated.
Accepting this worthy challenge to allow babies their feelings has the added benefit of presenting a wonderful opportunity for intimacy and bonding. When a child is supported to share his pain, his trust deepens.
I was reminded of this subject when a family in Mexico I correspond with asked how to help their 26 month old deal with a vacationing nanny…
Thanks for your time.
My wife and I are very worried. Mateo’s nanny will not be at home for 6 weeks, and we do not know how to help him to manage the separation.
Today was his first day without the old nanny, and he has been very irritated. We tried to make the change less strong for him. We had our nanny stay for a week with the new nanny so that he could familiarize. Also we prepared him a few days before his nanny would go.
Could you help us?!
Mario and Adriana
Hi Mario and Adriana,
Do you know this stanza from the poem by Lord Tennyson? (Don’t know if it translates!)
I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
I understand how hard it is to see your boy uncomfortable, but loving someone means missing that person when she’s gone, whether it’s temporary or forever. You’ve done everything right. Now, rather than try to make the change “less strong for him”, encourage him to express his feelings of loss completely. He’s attached to his nanny and that is a wonderful thing. All you can really do is support and acknowledge his feelings. Ask the new caregiver to do that, too. “You must miss Nanny so much. She’s gone for a while, but she’ll be back.” “You were always comfortable with Nanny because she knew you so well. It’s hard to get used to someone new.”
Keep talking about it. Listen to his discomfort and complaints. Allow him to cry. Encourage it. Hold him in your arms and let him feel all his feelings. It may be rough for you, but it will be very good for him, because he will then be able to move on and accept the new situation.
I share much more on this subject in Good Grief – When Babies Need To Cry and in my compilation: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting