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My daughter will be 3 this month. I am a single mom going through a divorce, her father moved to another state about 8 months ago and she was not 'that' close to him. She goes to a daycare facility which she seems to enjoy, but I have been noticing for about the past month that when I come to get her, she gets upset and cries and does not want to go home with me and sometimes won't even look at or talk to me. This is odd as I have always been the one who she is closest to and I have been the main one who takes care of her. She doesn't have many people in her life for support besides me other than my parents whom she is not very close to and takes a bit to warm up to them. She has always been different that way with other people, but never this is not only heartbreaking, but a little concerning as it is not normal for her. When I ask her about it, she says she doesn't know, but will sometimes say that she was playing and doesn't want to leave, which is understandable. But another concern of mine is I dont want her to grow up thinking she can be rude or disrespectful to those who are closest in her life, I know she is very young, but I just dont want her believing that is an ok way to treat people and I want to handle this the right way. Please help me.


Peter Hanfileti, MD Replied: We should not think for one second that your child is not aware of the feelings associated with the divorce and absence of her father. Of course, at 3 years old she has no conscious concept of what this really means, only the corresponding feelings she is able to detect from her surroundings and family members. A dramatic change in your family unit like a divorce will register like an earthquake to a 3 year old. Therefore, any scenario that feels like a big change to her will elicit a response like you describe: resistance and digging in so as not to repeat the same feeling of having to make such a transition, even when it means going home to familiar surroundings. Keep in mind that we all store information mostly by association, that is, similar experiences that feel the same way are stored like bits of data on a computer, and anything that stirs this part of your child's memory bank will cause a response designed to prevent or alleviate the uncomfortable situation. I recommend 3 things: Acknowledge her feelings however irrational or different from her norm they may be. Explain your own feelings to her even though she will not understand fully for many years down the line. Relate the feeling to her that there is an explanation for how both of you feel and that eventually everything will work out. Your ability to influence her state with your own is unquestionably something you can use to help her level of understanding, even many years before she will recognize and have proper perspective on life, relationships, changing routines and environments, etc. My take on your concern about not wanting her to grow up being rude and disrespectful is that she will have to learn those qualities over time. Any 3 year old will behave as you describe so don't worry too much. She will have plenty of time to learn and you will have plenty of time to model those qualities for her over the next several years.
Posted On 2010-06-21 17:03:54
Deborah Maragopoulos Replied: Children are very perceptive and your daughter is perceiving your energy. She feels your discomfort...related to the divorce and other stressors. She fusses to leave a peaceful situation at daycare. She needs you to be calm, to have fun, to laugh. She is not being rude...she is reacting to the energy that you are projecting. Some relaxation techniques like deep breathing and peaceful visualizations may help you feel calmer and happier. You may even want to take a restorative yoga class right before you pick her up to settle yourself. Children are a beautiful mirror for parents to learn their soul lessons. Your daughter is doing her job perfectly. And you, by reaching out, are doing yours. She will adapt to the new family situation and learn to love it if you do.
Posted On 2010-04-21 00:25:35
Nadia Thonnard Replied: Dear concerned mom, At age 3, your daughter needs to feel safe. It would be wise to assess how the divorce was explained to her. Check how clear it is to her. Even though she may not have been close to her dad, the family unit as she knew it has been modified and this can be very scary. Talk to her about it. Acknowledge that it must be scary for her and reassure her that it is going to be OK. I'm guessing that the daycare facility is an environment that has remained the same and therefore feels safe. People like and seek familiarity and since the divorce going home may feel unfamiliar because of the change. get her to talk about what has changed for her and how it makes her feel. A good way to do this and explore it is to ask her to do 2 drawings. 1 before daddy left and 1 after daddy left and allow her to express her feelings. Do not try to fix anything. Allow her to feel her feelings and then reassure her. Put yourself in her little shoes for a while and try and see how your situation could be seen and experienced from your daughters point of view.
Posted On 2010-01-14 02:27:31
Rosalind Sedacca Replied: Obviously it's difficult to provide a valuable answer for you from the little you can share here. However, it sounds as if this is a behavior problem that should be discussed with a mental health professional. You want to do some testing to make sure certain developmental issues or cognitive challenges like autism aren't involved. Then you can focus on the behavioral problems for what they are. Whatever is taking place, it's important to tackle it now, in the early stages. This may or may not be related to your divorce and you need to determine that and other factors as soon as possible. Ask the daycare, your pediatrician, clergy and local mental health centers for referrals you can check out. Best wishes to you!
Posted On 2010-01-05 21:48:56
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