Wholeness Healing Today

Developmental Separation Stages

Parents and children have a curious relationship which changes through the years. Part of the struggle is for them to connect, learn some independent skills, and begin to separate to go out on their own. This seems like a weird dilemma—first to attach and then to separate.

Children struggle when they are forced into separating from their parents. Children who have any attachment issues struggle much more. The first really difficult time is around 5-7, when children leave to go to kindergarten. For the first time, many are away from moms and dads; for the first time many are subjected to a structure they are unused to; for the first time other adults have complete control over the child’s day. Children who are attached to parents in a healthy manner may exhibit a few separation twinges some may cry and cling. But those who are expected to separate and who have not attached really have some accelerated behaviors including lying, theft, aggression, and even pseudo-attachment to other adults in the child’s life.

Children also have another separation stage about the same time hormones engage. Middle school, junior high. Another time of change, adjustment. Less structure, less supervision. And enough change when kids are securely attached. And an invitation to chaos if not. That is another time when we see more acting-out, more questioning of identity, more conflict with the parents, because other adults have entered the child’s life. And because of the hormonal changes, we may also see some sexual curiosity, even some acting-out in a sexual manner. Kids may become more rebellious, sneaking out, trying tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Because of some more freedoms and fewer rules and restrictions, children have more opportunity to get into more trouble.

The senior year of high school—–probably the hardest of all of the developmental separation stages. A senior is making plans to move from home, attend college, get a job, and be independent. This is a struggle for the most securely attached teens, but for those who have a tenuous attachment, this can be a very disruptive time if not handled properly. Teens at this age tend to be a little rebellious anyway, and add the attachment problems and this can be hard on both parents and child. I remember making the comment that colleges should call the end of July and tell parents that they had made a mistake and that the college student should be brought to school the first week of August instead of two weeks later! Because, by that time, parents are frazzled, teens are wreaking havoc with their relationships, and all need a break from each other!

So how do parents make these transitions easier for families? First by having good communication! This is imperative. And then by spending time with the children—even if they don’t want to be with the parents. Do family outings, set up family meetings, plan at least one night a week when all in the family sit down to dinner. When children push away is when they really need time with parents the most! So in spite of what the child says, continue to drive your child crazy with time with you!

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  • Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
    Licensed Professional Counselor
    Advanced Clinical HypnoTherapist

  • Deb England began working part-time for Wholeness Healing Center in September 2004 and began full-time in May 2005. Deb practices primarily in the Broken Bow office and one day a week in the Grand Island office. Previously she had completed her practicum and internship at Morning Star Alliance, working in the Broken Bow and Grand Island offices.


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