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The Informed Parent

The Clinging Daycare Child, Part 2

by Sandra Smith, Ph.D.
Published on Apr. 15, 2013


Last week we spoke of the pain of separation from your child. It was determined that babies adapt quickly, provided the baby has good daycare. The pain is primarily the parents’.

Mothers must literally grieve when they leave their beloved little ones in the care of someone else. The attachment which accompanies the first few months of a newborn’s life is intense, and is the product of both the passionate nature of the relationship between a newborn and her nurturer.

Underlying all deep attachments is a fear of loss. In giving a child over to a caretaker, a grief reaction often occurs. The parent worries if their child will love the caretaker more, and if they might ultimately “lose” the child. These feelings and fears are real, and may cause the parent to experience loneliness, guilt, helplessness and even anger.

It is very important that parents recognize these feelings, and allow them to surface. Talk to your spouse, or a friend who has had to place a child in daycare. Awareness of the anguish that separation brings parents allows the parent to confront and master it. Expression of these universal feelings defuses them, and leads to solutions for mastering them without sacrificing the intensity of the relationship. It is important not to detach yourself from your feelings, or to deny them.

When you understand and grasp that the pain of separation is, primarily, a parental issue, you learn to handle it. Also, certain steps can help tremendously:

  1. Get up early enough to have a few minutes of relaxed play and cuddling with your baby before you leave the home. 
  2. As soon as she is old enough, develop a simple routine of talking to your child about daycare, e.g., “It’s daycare today, and I know that Ms.­­­­­­­_________will love you while I’m gone.”
  3. At daycare, try to develop a separation routine. Hug your baby. Hand her over to the daycare worker, and say something like, “I’ll see you later. Mrs. ______will love you while I’m gone.”
  4. At retrieval time, have another routine. When you pick her up, hug her as soon as she separates from the daycare worker and say something like, ”Now we can go home and be a family again. I missed you and I know you missed me. But we always have each other at the end of the day.”

Developing these routines, while confronting your own complex feelings about separation, can go a long way toward easing the pain of leaving your child in someone else’s care. If you continue to feel beset by your feelings even after implementing these suggestions, you might want to consult a minister, counselor or child psychologist to help you through the transition.

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