When it is time to be away from our children — whether that’s just for the day at day care or school or for longer periods of time for travel or a co-parent’s turn to have the children — we can still strengthen our connection with them.
I became focused on bridging the time I was away from my children because leaving them was ripping at my heartstrings!
When it was time for me to go conduct a parenting presentation, even if it was just for an evening, one of my young ones used to have a complete meltdown. He’d start hanging on me while I was getting ready and even chase me down the street as I drove away. This was so stressful for him, the babysitter, and me too! I needed to find a way to teach him that I still loved him when I was gone and it was OK to be away from each other.
Thankfully, I discovered some techniques, which we worked on as a family and I passed along to my clients, that address the main reasons children hit the panic button or feel sad when their parents aren’t around.
Imagine creating a “connection bridge” to span the time when you are away from your child.
The three keys to successfully use a connection bridge are: preparing your child in advance that you will be apart, letting your child know the specific time when you will be together again, and using some sort of small object to “hold the connection.”
1. Prepare them in advance by filling their "tanks."
A good bridge involves already having filled their “tanks,” which are imaginary containers that hold our children’s capacity for our connection. Each child has a unique tank that gets filled by their parent(s) through love, attention, and focused time together.
When our child’s connection tank is full, they are much more tolerant of separation. With a full tank, you can then add a time promise and an object for your child to remind themselves of your connection when you are apart.
And here's a tip: The first thing our family does every morning is gather on the sofa for snuggle time. When the kids start peeling away to play or eat, I know their tank is full. “Hitting the ground running” can drain everyone’s tanks very quickly and is the first thing I talk to clients about when they say mornings are their least favorite time of the day.
2. Young children can tolerate being away from their caregivers when they know exactly when they will see them again.
For little ones — as most young ones can’t tell time — use a marker they will understand like, “I look forward to seeing you right after circle time,” or “Daddy will be picking you up right after your afternoon snack.”
You can also use a calendar to mark out “sleeps” if you need to be out of town or they will be at a co-parent’s for a period of time. Note the day you will see them again on a calendar. If there is a family calendar where all the activities are posted, write in which day you’ll return.
"Daddy will be picking you up right after your afternoon snack."
Your child might feel upset and powerless that you need to be apart, so try to give some of that power back with choices (between two things). Perhaps ask, “I’ll see you again in three sleeps. Do you want to color that day in the calendar with a marker or put a sticker on it?”
Use technology to your connection bridging advantage when you are away overnight: programs like FaceTime and Skype are the next best thing to being with your children in person. In order to connect with little ones through the internet, rather than asking questions, which you are likely to get one-word answers to, walk around the room you are staying in with your computer to show your kids around. Children can find the view out the window and what the bathroom looks like very interesting!
For day-to-day separation like school drop off, try a banana note! Use a fine screwdriver to imprint a note into a banana skin. The imprint will be invisible at first and darken throughout the day.
3. In addition to knowing when you will return, find a small object that a child could keep in a lunch box or pocket to hold when they are missing you.
I like using small rocks, old pieces of costume jewelry, rainbow loom bracelets, or sticky notes to do this.
When you are still together, take your connection object and rub it in your hands or hold it close to your heart. Saying something like, “I’ll fill this rock full of my love so if you feel sad when I’m gone, you can rub it to get some out.” Use language that you and your child are used to. Also, stuffed toys are great for longer separations: Hug the stuffie and say, “I’ll fill this guy with love so you can hug him whenever you’d like to.”
When we create a connection bridge with our children, we are essentially teaching them how to miss us.
We want the main messages to be that it’s OK to be apart and that we don’t love them any less or feel they are any less important when this happens. Sometimes we have to be away from the people we love and showing our children how to do this will help them feel less sad during times of separation.
What kind of connection bridge objects does your family use?