This separation tantrum isn't typical

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 5, 2012 06:00 AM

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Hi there, I really hope you can help me with this or at least point me in the right direction. I am a 30 year old single mum to my daughter who will be 3 in April.

I started college at the beginning of September and put her into their nursery. We had 3 days of settling in which went down fine - as there were no other kids, just the adults.
When it came to my first day, she was in from 9-3pm - there was an incident where she had been really upset and they tried to contact me to come out of class but was told I had left (even though I was next block along) they basically left her to cry the entire day and didn't try my emergency contacts. As you can imagine, she was distraught! Ever since she has not been able to settle. I kept her in for 4 weeks in the hope she would get used to it (we did shorter days and I picked her up at 12) but every time I went to collect her, I was told that she cried the entire time. She won't play, eat or drink! I tried a week of me being in the room with her and then leaving for 5 minutes and then coming back etc but she only lasted an hour on these days and would cry to me asking to go home.

I then tried a childminder and found a lovely lady and Olivia seemed happy playing in her house with toys etc and today was the first day I left her. I picked her up at 12:30 and was told she cried the whole time, wanted 'up' all the time and was miserable. She then told me that it was too much with my daughter and the other 2 kids she had. So now I'm really stuck . What's wrong with her? Have I babied her too much. How do I help the situation. I don't honestly know what to do. Please help!!

From: MG, Glasgow, Scotland


Dear MG,

Transitions and separations are harder on some kids than on others and it sounds like your daughter was off the charts in difficulty. Very hard on both of you, I'm sure! In fact, it sounds as if your daughter has been traumatized. My advice is to regroup.

Don't take her back to either place, in fact, don't start with a new place just yet, either. Start with your pediatrician, explain what's happened and ask for a referral to a professional -- a child therapist, a social worker, psychologist, or a parenting coach -- to help you come up with a new plan and a strategy for how to implement it. All is not lost -- your daughter will be able to separate! -- but because of the trauma she's experienced, you want help to make sure nothing goes awry the next time. Sad to say, I understand this might mean you have to forgo the semester.

Let's be clear: I'm not saying that every time a transition goes badly, parents need professional help. But the typical child's struggle does not drag on for extended days, or persist into the whole of the day. The typical child's separation tantrum is brief and mild. She can be comforted, distracted and engaged in other activities. That's not what happened here. To quote from "Separation: Supporting Children in their Preschool Transitions," by Kathe Jervis and Barbara K. Polland, it's when the "child is inconsolable that family and teachers must reexamine the situation." For whatever reason, MG, that sounds like where you are.

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3 comments so far...
  1. But of course she's a Glaswegian and that means she's on the NHS (National Health Service) and that all those services you so blithely recommend are going to have years long waiting lists. So maybe some more practical advice would be in order.

    Like perhaps you have to become a child minder yourself, take in 2 more children so that your daughter becomes socialized to not being an only with you available to her every minute of every day, until your daughter goes to real school and then go back to Uni.

    Posted by Dixie Lee October 5, 12 08:59 AM
  1. "Sad to say, I understand this might mean you have to forgo the semester."

    This advice is an unacceptable. Would you tell a working mother to quit her job? Would you tell this to a single father? What about money that's already been laid out: books, fees, that would be lost if she dropped out for the semester? What about ensuring that the child has money for food and clothing? (I know Europe's system is very different, but these are just considerations.) What about professional practicums or recommendations she may now not get for having unreliable childcare?

    This mom is asking for a workable solution that will allow her to continue her education and provide for her daughter. Telling her to drop out of life to be a stay at home mom just seems counterproductive, and frankly, disrespectful.

    Posted by AP October 5, 12 12:30 PM
  1. How about if she finds an in-home day care (I'm assuming that's a childminder) and first arranges playdates with one of the other children? If the little girl can get to know the other children while her mother is right there, it could make her feel more comfortable when mom leaves. Three is old enough for friendship attachments that could be a positive distraction from missing mommy all day.

    I agree with previous poster that telling mom to drop out of school is not a solution. That just postpones the inevitable separation and puts mom's life on hold.

    Posted by Dawn October 6, 12 07:10 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. But of course she's a Glaswegian and that means she's on the NHS (National Health Service) and that all those services you so blithely recommend are going to have years long waiting lists. So maybe some more practical advice would be in order.

    Like perhaps you have to become a child minder yourself, take in 2 more children so that your daughter becomes socialized to not being an only with you available to her every minute of every day, until your daughter goes to real school and then go back to Uni.

    Posted by Dixie Lee October 5, 12 08:59 AM
  1. "Sad to say, I understand this might mean you have to forgo the semester."

    This advice is an unacceptable. Would you tell a working mother to quit her job? Would you tell this to a single father? What about money that's already been laid out: books, fees, that would be lost if she dropped out for the semester? What about ensuring that the child has money for food and clothing? (I know Europe's system is very different, but these are just considerations.) What about professional practicums or recommendations she may now not get for having unreliable childcare?

    This mom is asking for a workable solution that will allow her to continue her education and provide for her daughter. Telling her to drop out of life to be a stay at home mom just seems counterproductive, and frankly, disrespectful.

    Posted by AP October 5, 12 12:30 PM
  1. How about if she finds an in-home day care (I'm assuming that's a childminder) and first arranges playdates with one of the other children? If the little girl can get to know the other children while her mother is right there, it could make her feel more comfortable when mom leaves. Three is old enough for friendship attachments that could be a positive distraction from missing mommy all day.

    I agree with previous poster that telling mom to drop out of school is not a solution. That just postpones the inevitable separation and puts mom's life on hold.

    Posted by Dawn October 6, 12 07:10 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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