THE NATURAL PROCESS OF SEPARATION IN CHILD DEVELOPMENT
Part of healthy development entails mourning the loss of your child identity and adapting how one relates to the attachments of that time. Separation does not mean withdrawal, distancing or detaching from your past; instead it is a natural development towards an individual way of being, moving on from a place which you have outgrown. As you grow your relationships change and adapt to more mature ways of relating.
At every stage of development there requires a reworking, re-processing and relinquishing of the previous stage of development and an amendment of defences used. This brings with it further establishment of one’s identity.
The first emotional and psychological developments occur through the interaction between parent and baby. The parent is the first window of opportunity for a child. Before school and play groups, a child’s template of relating, learning and developing is based on the primary care giver. The parent is the container for the child, and interprets the external world for them until they gain the mental capacity to do so for themselves.
As the child grows in their ability to hold, manage, and process their experiences, their environment outside their primary attachments becomes even more influential and impactful. The ability to master ones actions, control their internal world and explore through curiosity and creation, is a vital part of this stage of development. This mastery helps the child manage the anxiety that comes with recognising they are a separate individual within a family unit and ultimately different.
Adolescence is a time where separation and independence begin to be acted out and become real. To allow for healthy separation to occur, both parent and child need to manage separately and together and for this to happen both sides have to gradually let go. The internal conflict in realising the realities of separating is seen in the adolescent’s oscillation between dependence and independence.
Gradually more time is spent away from the family, establishing an identity independently. Reliance on friendship to ease the pain and anxiety of separating from the family identity is crucial. As independence is sought, freedom in decision making is gained, and thus an increase in one’s sense of control over life and it’s possibilities can be exhilarating, stimulating a drive to seek and acquire further life skills.
Greater independence and responsibility of what is not yet known makes adulthood daunting. Often one feels that this stage of life comes upon them too fast, leaving one feeling overwhelmed, deskilled and out of control, thus adolescence becomes a stage which can be fervently resisted against. There is a gradual removal of the family structure and a greater engagement in new and unknown relationships. The need for external support declines as one secures a greater internal stability, belief and trust in one’s abilities. There is a confidence in one’s ability to sufficiently manage and fulfil one’s needs independently.
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