Expert Articles

Preparing Young Children for Separation

Author: Dr. Sandra Tsang
Associate Professor, Department of Social Work and Social Administration

Ching Fun, a three-year-old, is the apple of Mr. and Mrs. Fan’s eyes. Mr. Fan works at a bank, while Mrs. Fan has been a full-time caregiver for Ching Fun, since her birth, constantly by her side. Their parent-child relationship is very close. Unfortunately, Mrs. Fan recently discovered a tumour in her breast, requiring surgery and a detailed examination. Besides worrying about her health, the couple also doesn’t know how to tell their daughter that mommy will be away for some time and that her grandmother, who doesn’t usually take care of her, will be taking care of her daily routine.

Even though young children may not fully understand, they often sense when something is going on in the family. Therefore, when parents face challenges similar to the Fan family’s, it is essential to communicate clearly with their children and help them prepare mentally.

  1. Be sincere: The truth is the easiest language to express naturally. Lying to children will eventually require covering up those lies. Parents should use words that children understand and even employ pictures and storybooks to help children understand the situation they will be facing.

  2. Manage your own emotions: When facing the surgery of a loved one, family members such as the husband may experience emotions. If adults do not handle their emotions well, they may frighten the child. Therefore, expressing confidence firmly can help the child accept and adapt to the situation.

  3. Provide enough time to address children’s questions:  Children may have partial knowledge of the situation, be curious, or be understanding. They may ask many questions or even give suggestions. Parents need to be patient and provide enough time to respond to their children’s questions and suggestions.

  4. The challenges were faced every day: After the child wakes up and has breakfast, facing challenges in the gentle morning allows for a whole day to accept and deal with the situation. Parents should never hurriedly explain things to their children before bedtime, leaving them alone in the dark with confused thoughts.

  5. Set a positive example and precept: Parents who live together should lead by example, allowing their children to truly feel that despite difficulties, everyone can face challenges together and continue with their daily lives, awaiting the return of their loved one.

  6. Seek help when needed:  If the difficulties seem overwhelming, seek help from appropriate family members or professionals early on. This avoids further deterioration of the problem and effectively protects oneself, the child, and the family member facing the challenge, allowing family life to return to normal as soon as possible.

Life is inevitably rugged, and parents must take care of themselves in order to take care of their children. There are always more solutions than difficulties.

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Preparing Young Children for Separation