If your child is having trouble separating from you into childcare or school, or even to family and friends, sometimes it helps to have a ‘connection ritual’.
My youngest boy taught me the importance of this.
People say that we don’t get an instruction manual when we have our kids. But we actually do. It’s the child himself. Our child tells us what she needs, through her behaviour. When children feel safe within the relationship with you, they will tell you what they need. We just have to listen.
My boy developed a ritual at drop-off time and bedtime where he would ask me to blow him a kiss, and he would catch it and put it in his pocket ‘for later’ and then he would pat his pocket. And I had to catch his kiss and put it in my pocket. He was then happy to separate.
Thus, a connection ritual is something that communicates your love, care, and attention to your child. It is similar to a ‘comfort item’ but there is no tangible object, just a memory.
I am a strong advocate for comfort items like a teddy or a blanket. In the life of a young child, they are a substitute for the primary caregiver. A comfort item provides comfort to the young child during a time when he is starting to realise that he is a separate person to his primary caregiver but the separation causes him anxiety (Dr Donald Winnicott). The comfort item is a reminder of the carer’s love.
As children grow older, and it’s not so cool to carry your teddy into school with you, a connection ritual can take the place of a comfort item.
A connection ritual can be anything that reminds your child of the bond between you. It can be a word, or a song, but it has to be the same thing each time. One of the coolest connection rituals I’ve seen is a family handshake. You know those funny handshakes that you see on American TV shows. The ones where they shake, then do a thumbs up and a slide, and bump their fists together, and wiggle their fingers, and do an explosion gesture, and all of that?
The connection ritual would be done as the final thing when you drop the children off at preschool or school, with a “see ya at the end of school” before you separate.
In the USA, connection rituals are standard practice in some schools. The teacher looks the child in the eyes, smiles warmly, shakes the hand of each child as he or she enters the classroom and says “good morning (name of the child)”. Sometimes this job is given to a child who is called ‘the greeter’ and it is just like any other job in the classroom which is rotated amongst the children, just like ‘line leader’.
What do you think? Is this something you already do? Do you have some ideas for connection rituals? One of the teachers in the school I work in told me about a book called “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn – you can find it on YouTube.
Basically, for the parents the connection ritual is something that creates connection, communicates care, nurture, and attention, and fills the child’s emotional cup before the separation. For teachers, it’s a ritual that communicates to the child that he or she is welcome at school.
Author: Narelle Smith
Family Worker & Student Wellbeing Worker
Nepean Community & Neighbourhood Services