Waving "bye-bye" to Mom or Dad can be hard to do - especially on the first day of kindergarten, daycare or summer camp.
To ease the pain of teary farewells, a "magic" bracelet imbued with a parent's love can do wonders, says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution.
In fact, she is so convinced it works that a free "magic" bracelet is enclosed in her new book, The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution, along with tips for situations including business travel, military duty and divorce.
Clinginess may come and go until a child is 7 or 8, says Ms. Pantley, an advocate of "attachment parenting," which emphasizes physical and emotional closeness with a child.
The mother of four explains why kids - and their parents - find it so hard to part.
Why shouldn't a child cry during a separation - isn't it okay for the child to be sad?
What we do in the early years is build trust and send the message to our children that "I'm the one to protect you." So it makes perfect biological sense for the child to cry when that safety net is removed. And we're primed to respond to our child's tears by saying, "Oops, you need me. Let me be there for you." That doesn't ever mean we should do anything our child wants when our child cries, but it does mean we need to respond in some way to reassure them that everything is okay.
You surveyed almost 250 parents from 25 countries for this book. Did anything surprise you?
I was really surprised by how many parents had separation anxiety themselves and how many wanted me to include a chapter on that. Many people feel physical pain when leaving their child with someone. I don't think people really understand that it's a perfectly natural part of love.
If separation anxiety is a healthy sign of a child's attachment to a parent, does that mean there's something wrong with a child who doesn't have separation anxiety?
No, not at all. But sometimes they're just not showing it, or they're showing it in different ways. They might be a bit more reserved - the child who sits in a corner of the playground just observing very quietly, being timid in making new friends.
What's the danger in ignoring a child's separation anxiety?
The child [may]question the relationship [with a parent]and the safety that they perceive they had. They can take out their emotions on their peers or their teachers, or not respond to other adults in an open, loving way. I've not done any research on the long-term consequences ... but I suspect that a lot of us have issues in adulthood that started with separation problems when we were babies and toddlers.
Can we be oversensitive to a child's needs in a separation?
I would have to say no. I think it's about respecting the emotions and then taking the steps to gradually and gently help a child accept separations. I think the issues come when a parent is too afraid to try and so therefore they don't separate. I don't think that is healthy for the parent or child.
How can parents distinguish between normal separation anxiety and a full-blown anxiety disorder?
A child with normal anxiety will cry when Mommy and Daddy leave but within 10 or 15 minutes, they're fine. A child who's past that line will cry off and on all day, day after day, and you won't see any improvement. They may not be eating or sleeping well. Those are flags that say there's something more going on.
Where did you get the idea for the "magic" bracelet?
My youngest son had a very difficult time separating to attend kindergarten. I was beading at the time - it was a hobby - and I just got the idea to make this bracelet for him and say "Mommy's love is in this bracelet, so whenever you miss me, you can just look at it or touch it." And he just thought that was the ticket.
You say it's okay for a babysitter to bend the rules, let the kids eat candy. Why?
The idea behind that is the babysitter becomes a treat. So a child who's reluctant [to be left]finds out, "Wow, the babysitter let me have ice cream and watch cartoons - this is a pretty good deal after all." It's about changing the dynamics of the event to something that's fun ... but this doesn't apply if it's a nanny who's going to be at the house every day.
Some of your suggestions, such as preparing the child for a parent's departure, seem like common sense. Why do parents need a book on separation anxiety?
[In the past]you would have aunts and grandparents close by who would be able to share their wisdom. Also, we've become an information society. Parents automatically go to a book when they have issues with their children.
Do you have another book in mind for the No-Cry series?
I do indeed. The next will be on eating, from starting solids to picky eaters and eating out at restaurants - all of that.