Magazine article Work & Family Life

Parents, Too, Can Feel Separation Anxiety

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Parents, Too, Can Feel Separation Anxiety

Article excerpt

Parenting

My own mother used to say, when I accused her of "smothering" behavior, "Just wait. One day you'll have

children-then you'll see." Two kids later, it's obvious Mom was right. Letting go is hard. Maybe even harder than it used to be, for valid reasons. In fact, the new generation of parents may be even bigger worrywarts than those fabled, overprotective mothers of yesterday.

We have to learn to "let go" of our children so they can gradually learn to take care of themselves. Separation is an important developmental task for children and a psychological one for parents. But the subtle pressures that impede parental separation have increased.

Why it's so hard to let go

Today's working parents feel as if they have less time with their kids, so when they are at home, they want to feel connected. Then there's all the new research on the psychological development of infants. The popular, but somewhat inaccurate, consensus that a child's personality is shaped by the age of 3, can be frightening.

If you, like so many parents these days, are more protective, worried, hovering and anxious than you expected or wanted to be, here are some keys to a healthier attitude toward letting go.

You can't anticipate everything. Parents try to protect their children from negative experiences because we believe that eliminating pain or failure will enhance a child's self-esteem. But frustration and disappointment can actually build confidence by teaching a child that bad feelings are temporary and can be overcome. Similarly, when we are hypervigilant and try to protect children from minor bumps and bruises, we take away their impetus to master new skills by themselves.

You don't always know what your child is thinking. The belief that we know without question what's going on in our child's mind prevents healthy separation. It creates dependency in a child, a sense that "Mommy knows me better than I know myself." This can be comforting to young or very frightened children but most kids need to feel that at least some of their thoughts are private and that Mom or Dad can't really read their minds.

Encourage children to express themselves. Except in a crisis, when safety is an issue or a child is too distraught to speak, ask kids to articulate their own needs. This teaches a child that her or his unique perspective is valued, and this belief is fundamental to good communication and confidence. Use the multiple choice technique: "Are you hungry or tired? …

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