Separating a child from their primary caregiver can have harmful effects on the child if the separation is frequent or for an extended period of time. Children are born with the ability, desire and need to attach to others. Your child will form the strongest bond with the person who attends to his needs in the most appropriate manner. According to Simply Psychology, children form stronger bonds with those who engage and play with them, not just perform caretaking duties.
Separation and Infant Stress
The Natural Child Project reports that even short-term separation from mother leads to elevated cortisol levels in infants. Regular or prolonged separations causes continuous elevation of stress levels leading to more depression, behavior problem and lower IQ scores.
Children learn to trust and they form attachments through repeated interactions in which their needs get met. Being picked up when he cries, fed when he is hungry and comforted when in distress all build that attachment bond. Infants are born without the ability to care for themselves in any way and are dependent on their caretaker to do it for them.
Certainly there are ways for your child to separate from you in a healthy manner. When separation happens in a predictable way and the child is always reunited with the parent, at the end of a work day for instance, she learns that you are always coming back. In order to learn this, you child needs a predictable routine, and to be left with a consistent and loving caregiver.
As your child becomes older, he will be able to tolerate separation from you better and for longer periods of time. By elementary school many children begin spending overnights away from parents to spend more time with friends or other family members.
Children learn and develop in the context of relationships. When those relationships are severed, through divorce, death, placement in foster care or incarceration, children suffer. Prevent Child Abuse Vermont recognizes that children suffering through loss are grieving and need to be with adults who are supportive to that process in order to heal. They identify many harmful effects to separation of children from caregivers, including regression in dependency needs, interference with identify and the development of the sense of self, a lag in the normal acquisition of language and becoming psychologically stuck at the age at which the loss occurred.
If a child must be separated from his primary caregiver, the adults left in his life need to be there for him even more. The Foundation for Grieving Children identifies behavior that signifies grief at varying ages. Young children may cling, become introverted or lash out with aggression. Older children and adolescents may turn to addictions such as drugs, alcohol or sex.
Consistent, responsive caregiving by the adults left in their life is what a child needs to start healing. CNN recommends focusing on normal routines and answering their questions honestly. The use of music and crafts may help a preschooler open up about his feelings. Getting the child into therapy as soon as possible will help the child begin to heal and learn to form attachments with other adults.