6-year old Still Cries When Parents Leave

I run a day care and one of my clients wants me to watch her kids while they are out of town. Problem is the 6 year old still cries when Mom is not there.

MOLLY: This came from a reader based in Los Angeles, California. She doesn’t feel the kids are emotionally ready for the parents to leave for 4 or 5 days. She also said that she is very fond the mom and not sure how to approach her with her concerns.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom): I think this is a very difficult situation and very awkward for the day care provider.

MOLLY: It’s pretty uncomfortable since she’s working for this family she can’t really just tell them, “Your kids aren’t ready.”

DR. RUTHERFORD: But if she is uncomfortable agreeing to this because she’s pretty sure it’s going to be a difficult time, it sounds like the kids aren’t separated enough from the parents, and the young one is very young.

MOLLY: I think she’s more worried about the 6-year old…

DR. RUTHERFORD: …who has not functioned very well without her Mom so far.

MOLLY: Is that normal for a 6-year old to cry every time her Mom and Dad leave for a dinner date?

DR. RUTHERFORD: No, I don’t think so, not at six. It seems a little old to me. So you’d have to wonder what that’s about for the child and, if she has a hard time doing that, then she has more awareness of time than the young child does. I can see where the day care center provider would have a lot of difficulty agreeing to do this.

MOLLY: What should she do?

DR. RUTHERFORD: She’s got a dilemma. If she’s really uncomfortable and doesn’t think the visit is going to go well, in the long term, it could become a bigger problem for her because that child might not want to come back to the day care center.

MOLLY: She’ll be mad at her (the day care provider)?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Right, because that will be the scene of the trauma for the child, or whatever it is that she’s experiencing about the separation from the Mom. In the long run it probably won’t be helpful for the caregiver to do this if she’s that concerned that the kids won’t adjust well.

MOLLY: What should she tell the parents? She’s concerned that that child has trouble separating right now and she’s worried the child won’t want to come back to daycare?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, not only that but the bigger issue of how is the kid going to handle it while the parents are gone, which she doesn’t predict will be very well. The problem can remain when the parents come back, too.

MOLLY: But that would be a problem with the parents, not with the day care person, right?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Well, it could be a problem with both: definitely with the parents, or the Mom, but she may refuse to go back to the day care center, too. It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen but the 6-year old might decide not to go back. Or be very difficult about it because she’s afraid that she’d be left behind there again.

Now, if the day care provider decides she’s going to do it and will keep the kids for those 4 or 5 days, the kid will need a lot of preparation from both the Mom and the daycare provider. For instance, the Mom should talk to the older child about it ahead of time. And then while the parents are away, the Mom should arrange to leave a present with the day care provider for every day for the child, so that the kid has concrete evidence that the parents are thinking about her even though they are not there.

DR. RUTHERFORD: There’s already some trauma happening for the child, and they will be increasing the trauma by being away for that length of time. The parents should really look into what’s going on with the child.

MOLLY: Why is she freaking out every time they leave for an evening?

DR. RUTHERFORD: Right. At this point, it might not be in this child’s best interest to go away for that long.

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