Sometimes success in a certain situation rests largely on how we prepare us and our kids and how we set our expectations. We have to be look ahead and mitigate risk much like a secret service detail.
For kids with trauma and abandonment issues, letting go of a primary attachment figure for even a weekend can be earth-shattering. Here are some tips for helping your family prepare and cope with brief separations due to work travel, illness, or much-needed respite.
- Start small. Part of building solid and safe attachment is a cycle of the primary caregiver going away for a period and then coming back. Don’t make your first separation from your anxious child a weekend. Start with an hour or two and slowly extend it. For really fragile kiddos, you may have to start with minutes and build up from there.
- Build a posse of trusted adults. Identify some family or friends in your life who will be willing to give you a break or cover for you if necessary. Then, spend time with them regularly all together. Building new relationships within the safety of mom and/or dad around is much easier than navigating a new relationship while dealing with separation anxiety.
- Make it about your child. “Auntie Sarah is coming because she has a plan to create a special weekend just for you,” or “Uncle Bo invited you to hang out at his house with him” may be received much better than, “Mom and Dad are going to leave you with Auntie Sarah for the weekend.”
- Know your child. Some kids may love the adventure of a new place. Others may feel more secure in their space sticking to their “normal” routine as much as possible. Additionally, some kids may need more notice to process and prepare, and others may drive you crazy if they know too far in advance. Know how contact while you’re away will likely affect your kiddo. Some may need to talk to you daily. Others may do better with out-of-sight-out-of-mind. If you’re working with a therapist or other mental health professional, make sure to loop them in so she can help your child cope with the extra anxiety.
- Use visuals. Whether it’s a countdown to the separation, a countdown to reunification, pictures of where you or they will be going, a visual schedule, or all of the above, high anxiety kids need concrete tools to help them cope. The less unknowns there are, the better.
- Leave a momento. Have your child keep something safe for you until you return. Make sure it’s something they know you would never leave permanently…a favorite piece of clothing or jewelry. Kids often undervalue themselves so they think they are abandonable, but they will have confidence you’ll come back for your wedding band or favorite sweater. Another idea is to get a matching something, like a bracelet, that you can both wear while you’re apart.
- Plan for re-entry. Chance are that there will be backlash from your separation. Create space upon your return to spend extra time with your child so you can refill that security and love tank. Speak in his love language. Don’t be surprised or blindsided if your child tries to sabatoge your re-entry as a way of releasing big feelings about the time away. Sometimes knowing a setback is coming is half the battle for surviving!
- Rinse and repeat. You obviously don’t want to leave so often that your child feels undervalued or abandoned, but periodic separation (aka. respite) from hard kids is part of surviving the marathon. Additionally, every time you come back after a separation, you are strengthening her confidence through experience that she doesn’t have to be terrified every time someone leaves.
Do you have a tip for prepping for a brief separation? Share it below!