You’re hanging out at your friend’s house with your 2-year old child. You’re so engrossed in your conversation. Couple minutes later, you look for your child and he/she is missing. Sudden panic sets in. I am not a parent, but I’ve definitely had those moments while I was responsible for taking care of my young cousins or kids in my children’s ministry.
Well, the panic that you’d feel in this scenario is probably the panic that a child would feel when he/she looks for a parent and is nowhere to be found. I see this often… parents sneak out of the room on Sundays at church when their child is preoccupied. It makes them feel good knowing that their child is happy and playing when they leave. What they fail to realize is that when the child looks for their security in their parents and they’re missing, their whole world falls apart. They haven’t had enough life experience to know that his/her parent will come back! As far as they’re concerned, they’ve just been abandoned.
This is why I encourage parents to give their child hugs and kisses and assure them that they’ll come back after they sing and listen to God’s Word just as the kids do the same with their friends. I tell them that it’s okay if they cry. Whether they stay for 2 minutes or 20 minutes, the kids will still cry just the same. In fact, the best way to alleviate separation anxiety is consistency!
My Early Childhood Core Member came up with a fantastic adjustment plan for our kids in infants and toddlers room that deal with separation anxiety. A sample one looks like this:
Week 1: Parent stays the entire time in class but sits on the side rather than playing with the child. This will allow the child to explore and interact with other children and leaders with security.
Weeks 2, 3, & 4: Same as Week 1
Week 5: Parent stays for one hour then leaves
Week 6: Parent stays for 30 minutes and leaves
Week 7: Parent stays for 15 minutes and leaves
Week 8: Parent drops off and leaves
Of course, we adjust depending on the child… Some kids have adjusted in 3 weeks while others have taken longer. But this is a starting point guideline. 8 weeks is a long time (I know, it’s 2 months) but we want children to associate church/Sunday school with positive feelings rather than a place where they’re abandoned by their parents!
I share this to say… please always try to think about the situation from the child’s point of view. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve been kids… but we can’t treat them older than they are. One parent said to me “I want my child to know what I know.” To which I said “There’s a reason why he is 10 and you’re in your 40s.”