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Diane Miller

Children handle change differently

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Posted: September 29, 2007 2:25 p.m.
Updated: October 14, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    In some families, employment of a partner requires traveling or taking a position away from the primary family residents. When there are children, it is important that parents explain what is going to happen before they leave the household for any extended time. Such arrangements can be difficult for a child to understand.
    Each child reacts a little differently in a stressful situation. It depends on age, temperament and personality. A child may be shy or clingy, have a temper tantrum or revert to childlike behavior. When the parent returns, a young child may not seem to like him or her. One common reaction by children is to ignore the returning parent and gradually warm up to them.
    Infants fuss, cry and pull away from the returning parent. Even a short absence can cause the child not to recognize the returning parent. For that reason, a child may cling to the adult that has always been present and treat the returning parent as a stranger. The parent can slowly gain the child’s confidence. Be patient.
    Toddlers and preschoolers play independently around other children and play contentedly alone if near an adult. When an adult returns they may demand personal attention and want to be with that person constantly. Children at this age like to help adults and have conversations with them and be praised. The child wants to feel independent. Toddlers may feel guilty for making the parent go away. They may experience separation anxiety. A child may play games with the returning adult by offering the adult a toy and fail to release it. Toddlers and preschoolers will whine and be fussy. Children may test both parents to the limits and demand more attention than usual.
    Elementary school age children may dread the return of the absent parent. They know things will be different when the adult returns. They fear that they will lose a parent’s attention. A reaction may be the child demanding lots of attention. They may be competitive, blaming and moody or they may talk a lot to gain approval and attention.
    Preteens are very social and prefer to spend time with their friends. They learn acceptable behavior patterns and consequences through their peer relationships. Preteens find mothers all important in life but begin to pull away from parents and show interest in friends as they get older. They may not want anything to do with the returning parent or they may challenge the parent to the limits or they may talk constantly to gain approval.
    Teenagers may be concerned about new responsibility and rules when the parent returns home they may refrain from communicating with adults or challenge adult’s knowledge. Some teens crave to be alone. Go slow and be patient when returning to children. Observe their actions and be flexible-but not a pushover.
    For more parenting information, contact Diane at (912) 871-6130, dianem@uga.edu or www.ugaextension.com/bulloch/fcs. Also, join us for “Parenting: The Early Years” beginning Monday, Oct. 1. The programs begin at 5:30 p.m. and are free. Call for more information.
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