Thursday, September 18, 2014

Dealing with fears. - Part 3, the last one. (English / Polski)


If you haven't seen two previous post about this topic and you want to check them out at first, go HERE and HERE.

This post is written mostly by Nathan who has an experience in this subject that he wanted to share.

                In the previous post we discussed a way in which you can help children with fears. In this post you will find a technique for helping children through what were likely some of the most traumatic experiences we've all endured. There are moments in a child's life that require them to venture out beyond their comfort zone, such as a new baby sitter, first day away from home, a new day care or school, or any separation from the trusted adults in their life. While it is commonly believed that these experiences must involve tears, perhaps for both caregiver and child, I have found a novel approach that makes it a positive growth experience both for the child and their attachment to the caregiver.

                When Alicia was 11 months old I enrolled her in a day care facility. We had visited the facility together prior to her first day but she was not prepared for her first separation from her father to be with unfamiliar people. Her caregiver had over 40 years of experience in childcare and together with some of the other staff assured me that by staying longer than a few moments I would only make the transition more difficult for Alicia. I felt very conflicted about this but decided to trust their experience. I thought that they had gone through this process with hundreds of children, so surely they had perfected this. As you can probably guess, Alicia cried as I walked out in spite of the attempts of the staff to distract and re-assure her. The next several times I dropped her off we went through the same process. I began to lose my trust in her caregiver. Her method didn't seem very effective at all in preventing Alicia from feeling betrayed, abandoned, and terrified. I didn't want to sacrifice the bond of trust between Alicia and me but I knew of no other solution.

                It wasn't until months later that I discovered a way of dealing with these situations that avoided the terror and the tears entirely. The problem with the "normal" method used by her daycare is that it is exactly as I described, abandoning and betraying your child. The child knows exactly what is happening but experts and professionals ignore the reality of it or minimize it. Some even think that it is good for a child to experience this.

                Here's how you can empower your child to separate from you:
                First, talk to your child beforehand and tell them in as much detail as possible what you expect will happen when you arrive and after you are gone and until you will be reunited. Let them know that under no circumstances will you leave until they have given you the OK (I know this part sounds risky, but hang on.) Explain the consequences you face if you cannot leave her with another caregiver. Do so honestly but in terms he or she can understand. If he or she suggests other solutions like living in a cardboard box or joining the circus, you might say, "So you think that I should quit my job so we can stay together. While we would be able to stay together, without a job we wouldn't have food to eat or a place to sleep!" This may sound tedious, but this is what it takes to talk something through with a three-year-old as an equal. They are all valid questions that simply need a trustworthy answer. Once resigned to the fact that being with another caregiver is the least worst option, they can begin to consider how they can best cope with the change. Your child will have a lot of things to be anxious about while adapting to the new situation. By removing the fear of abandonment you allow the child to focus on testing the trustworthiness of their new environment.

                Second, arrive early or arrange your work schedule such that you won't suffer any consequences if you are an hour late or so. When you arrive at the daycare center, listen to every thing the child says and pay special attention to how he or she is feeling as she processes her experience. Repeat everything you observe back to your child as it happens, somewhat like narrating a sporting event. If your child looks anxious, you might say "I see that you are walking slowly and your eyes are open wide." You might observe, "I see you are interested in (or looking at) that woman in the office." Remember that you must be prepared to repeat even negative sentiments like fear, anger, or criticisms. You may hear things like, "I don't like this teacher, she's stupid!" Or perhaps, "The kids here all hate me!" And you will need to be willing and able to repeat these sentiments in a non-judgmental way, even in front of the "stupid" teacher or the "hateful" kids. For example, "You think the teacher is stupid!" or, "You're sure that all of the kids here hate you!" Failure to repeat these sentiments will demonstrate to the child that you are not completely on their side. At this time, more than ever, they need to know that you will not shrink from being their trusted advocate.

                When you come to their class room and meet your child's new caregiver, continue to observe and narrate your child's experience as her attention shifts around the new environment. If she is scared, observe and report it. If she is excited by something, report your observation. If she isn't confronting her environment, repeat your agreement from the morning. Say that you will not leave until and unless she feels comfortable giving you the OK and then confront her with your own problem: You're afraid that you'll be late for work and the resulting consequences. Your child's sympathy for you and your problem is what motivates them to take risks in confronting their new environment. Naturally, the better your relationship and the more believable your problem is, the more effective will be this method. Give her a some more minutes narrating her progress and, if she is still hesitating, re-confront with your problem. It should be the same thing each time you confront but naturally with more and more passion. For some, it may take several confrontations before you can summon the passion (Not anger, fear!) to be truly sympathetic in the eyes of your child.

                I trust that if you use this method, putting aside all attempts to force the matter, you will smile with tears of love and pride as I did when my daughter turned to me during just such an episode and said, "Daddy, you can go now."

Talk to you in a month! Two weeks were not enough time for us.
Nathan & Aga

                P.S. You will likely be seen by most childcare workers as a mental patient. You may receive contemptuous stares or even threats as I did in one situation. Sometimes the child will test the environment and reject it as untrustworthy. If after careful attempts they reject a caregiver, there is probably a very good reason for doing so--look elsewhere.

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