Ask the expert: I dread leaving my baby girl when I go back to work
Advice from parenting expert David Coleman on the dread of returning to work after maternity leave and on how to deal with a disrespectfuly five-year-old with a baby in the house.
Question: I'm due back to work in about four weeks and am absolutely dreading leaving my daughter. She'll be 10-months-old. I took all of the paid and unpaid leave available, and she's a great, healthy, smiley, little girl. But, we have spent every day of the past 10 months together and I'm afraid that both she and I will really struggle to cope with the separation. I have a flexible job and will go back on a four-day week but I feel I need to find a way to prepare for the day I leave my daughter so that it is as positive and stress-free for her as possible.
David replies: I'm due back to work in about four weeks and am absolutely dreading leaving my daughter. She'll be 10-months-old. I took all of the paid and unpaid leave available, and she's a great, healthy, smiley, little girl. But, we have spent every day of the past 10 months together and I'm afraid that both she and I will really struggle to cope with the separation. I have a flexible job and will go back on a four-day week but I feel I need to find a way to prepare for the day I leave my daughter so that it is as positive and stress-free for her as possible.
However, there is also a danger that your anticipation of separation may disrupt the last few weeks you have at home, such that you don't get to enjoy this precious time.
Your daughter has had the benefit of what sounds like a close and secure attachment to you. Your description of her as "great, healthy and smiley" suggests that she is very happy and content.
The security that you have created for her makes it easy for her to trust in you.
If this is the case then, in terms of psychological attachment, you have created the basis for her to feel secure in the company of any adult. It is her secure attachment that gives her the resilience and capacity to form those secure and trusting relationships with others (especially her childminder/carer).
So, when she starts with whatever childcare you have planned for her, you could expect that she will also be able to settle and rely on her new carer too.
The separation that will occur when you return to work is a process not an event. It is not the case that one day you are with her and next you are not, and then it is finished and dealt with. Both of you may feel the loss of each other for a period of time before you adjust to the new way of life.
Preparing for the separation process involves, initially, trying to understand and manage your own feelings. You may experience anxiety, sadness and a real feeling of missing her when you are without her.
As you become aware of how you feel, it will be helpful to be able to express that to friends and family, thus minimising the amount of the feeling that you might otherwise transfer onto your daughter.
In further preparation, you can do some practical things to increase your confidence in the childcare choices you have made. Start, if you haven't already, by arranging short visits to the crèche or childminder.
This has the dual effect of letting your daughter get to know and meet whoever will be caring for her and also letting you see how warmly and lovingly the carer (I am assuming she will be a she!) interacts with your daughter.
Then use these visits as an opportunity to go out for short periods; giving your daughter practice at being without you and also letting her learn that after time you will always return.
If you can eke out any additional flexibility from your employer then see if you could work a week of half days for your starting week. That might make it feel a bit easier for you and your daughter.
Try not to be overly bothered if your daughter cries as you leave her. That is her survival instinct kicking in to say, "don't leave me, I rely on you for everything and how am I going to cope without you?". It is designed, very determinedly, to keep you present by making you feel guilty and torn about going.
To allow her to settle with her carer, though, you do need to leave, even if she cries.
The reality is, of course, that within a very short space of time, usually a few minutes, the same instinct reminds her to make the best of the situation as it is, and so she just gets on with the new arrangements.
Children do learn to cope fine with new minders. Usually it just takes time.
Once she has had time to adjust and gain confidence and trust in her childminder/carer, it will become easier for you to go because it will simply be a transition from one secure base to another.
My five-year-old son has become naughty and disrespectful in recent months
Question: My oldest boy is five, I've a daughter aged four and another son aged just five months. My older boy is funny, loving and big hearted. But, over the last few months he has become so naughty and disrespectful towards me, especially when his dad is at work. He shouts and screams and won't stop even when he's asked to. I can't take him to visit family, as his behaviour is so disruptive. I have taken toys, tried a star chart but nothing seems to work for long. I get upset because I am constantly correcting him but don't know what else to do?
David replies: Any time there is a change in a child's behaviour it is worth considering what else might have changed in their environment, either at home, or in school or with a childminder/crèche.
This is because many children are sensitive to changes. It may take them time to adjust to new circumstances and in the intervening period they can be off-form, unsettled or anxious. Often that unsettled feeling or anxiety can show in their behaviour.
I am struck by the fact that you have a five-month-old little boy. You describe that your older boy's behaviour began to disimprove a few months ago. The timing of that change matches well with the time when the 'honeymoon period' of a new sibling arriving may have worn off.
If you think about it from your older boy's perspective, a new brother might represent a particular challenge that his younger sister never posed. A new boy in the family might mean that his role in the family could be usurped.
For example, if your son had a particular kind of bond with you or his dad, because he was your son (as opposed to being your daughter), he may now feel that the bond is diluted because there is another boy in the family who might engender the same kind of feelings in you or his dad.
Maybe he has to share with his little brother. Maybe he just doesn't like seeing the new baby in your arms more of the time than he gets to spend cuddling you or sitting with you.
At the very least, the new baby has probably reduced your available time and attention, leaving you and his dad, perhaps, more tired and grumpy due to a greater workload and less sleep!
You might even be reacting to things more snappily, or crosser, than you used to, before the baby was here.
The new baby might have given you a new perspective on your older boy too, increasing your sense that he should be more able, more 'copped on' and more responsible. So even though he is only five, because he is the oldest you may just expect more from him.
Any, or all, of these possible changes could be enough to disturb your older boy's normal happy and loving nature.
I think his recent 'bolder', 'ruder', behaviour is his way of showing you that he is struggling to adjust to the new family circumstances.
It is worth checking what he is like in school or pre-school. Has his teacher noticed any change in his behaviour? Children sometimes manage to 'hold things together' elsewhere, reserving the meltdowns and upset for home. But it is worth checking nonetheless.
I do think that if you can be really warm and understanding about the arrival of his little brother, guessing at some of the feelings (like I have suggested above) you may find that his behaviour settles again.
I can imagine that it will take him some time to adjust to the new family circumstances. It is important that you try to think about his behaviour as representative of his upset feelings more than simply bold or naughty behaviour in its own right.
Responding to his emotional well-being may pay more dividends in terms of his behaviour, in this case, than any number of behaviour management strategies that I might give you.
Show him that you can see he is off-form and then balance the times that you have to check any misbehaviour with lots of times when you can catch him being good too.
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