From the Therapist's Desk

HEALING PARENT-CHILD ESTRANGEMENT FOR CHILDREN 0-3

This is a physically demanding time of care-taking for the primary parent. Consider a structure that allows the estranged parent to participate in the many levels of care including feeding, bathing, soothing, settling to sleep and all the other dailies of life.

If the returning parent lacks the experience and skills in these areas then offer to help or ask a trusted family member or friend to  provide teaching and support. The estranged parent can read books and take an infant parenting skills class.

For infants, multiple short visits during the week are best. Babies up until the age of three can have difficulty being away from their primary caretaker for long periods of time. Infants are like sponges absorbing everything in their environment. Thus it is critical that parents provide a soothing, safe, loving, responsive atmosphere. If conflict and tension exist your child will feel that tension inside of themselves.

Pay attention to signs that your infant is experiencing distress, including whining, clinginess, and fussiness that doesn't go away with soothing, as well as changes in eating and sleeping habits. The chances of a successful visit between the estranged parent and child increase if the primary parent and estranged parent can work together to keep the child's eating and sleeping schedules close to what they are in the primary home.

Understand that beginning around age 6 months children naturally experience anxiety when leaving their primary caretaker. So if initial visits have the infant clinging on to the other parent's leg for dear life, it is important that the returning parent doesn't assume the child is reacting to the new parent.  Instead, both parents should think first about stages and phases of development and the ordinary behavior changes that occur.

What should parents do if the infant throws a fit when leaving the primary parent? The primary (or securely attached) can provide tips and demonstrate what helps calm the child down during times of stress or transition. Consider having a transitional object, like a blanket or favorite toy, which goes back and forth with the child.

If you are the returning parent, you need to be in shape for a marathon as your infant becomes a toddler. Around 18 months of age healthy children naturally seek independence. They explore their world by getting into everything and will need a lot of supervision during this time. Keeping up with a curious toddlers can be exhausting!

Both parents need to focus on the child's needs! Cooperation and collaboration is absolutely essential for the task of raising a healthy and happy child. Make sure your adult issues are resolved because your child needs peaceful and pleasant coparents!