- January 30, 2017
Threatening to leave is a common parenting tool to gain co-operation from our children, especially when the children won’t leave a space and we are in a hurry! My guess is that most of us have used this method, especially when frustrated and tired, simply because it usually works! However, the cost to our children of using the threat to abandon them goes deep.
“I’m going to your centre now, goodbye!”
Threatening to leave is a common parenting tool to gain co-operation from our children, especially when the children won’t leave a space and we are in a hurry! On my first day back after the Christmas break, I observed a parent and child looking at something together. The child was still interested but the parent wanted to go to do the drop off at the child’s centre. It was Monday morning, a common day for children to resist separation and transition, and for parents to be in a hurry to leave! The parent stated they were leaving and started to walk away and the child’s face showed panic.
My guess is that most of us have used this method, especially when frustrated and tired, simply because it usually works! However, the cost to our children of using the threat to abandon them goes deep. I have researched the literature and found that the threat of abandonment is up there in the list of ways to mess up our children.
An article in the Atlantic (a US based psychology publication) called “12 Ways to Mess Up Your Kids” (2011) puts threatening to leave your children behind as number 1 in this list of 12. “A child’s feeling of attachment to his parents and caregivers is one of the most important things in a child’s development, especially in the early years. Dr. L. Alan Sroufe, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, says threatening your child with abandonment, even in seemingly light-hearted ways, can shake the foundation of security and well being that you represent. According to Sroufe, when you say things like, ”I’m just going to leave you here”, it opens up the possibility that you will not be there to protect and care for them. For a child, the thought that you could leave them alone in a strange place is both terribly frightening and can erode their attachment to you as the secure base from which they can encounter the world.”
An article called ‘What is Abandonment?” by A.J Mahari (2010), has a comprehensive list of the features of feelings of abandonment and the potentially life long issues created by abandonment or the threat of abandonment. Some of these include the following:-
SO, what can we do instead of using this threat to leave? As transitions are often at the heart of when things go wrong, preparing our children for their day, and yours, is helpful. Here are some ideas on how to get started:
I hope these ideas help your experience of supporting your children when a transition is being resisted and a new age and stage is being processed by everyone.
Sally Brown (BApp Sc OT; OTR)
Director Allied Health
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