My daughter is 23 months old and I’ll be leaving her for the first time on Friday. I’ll be gone for 4 days. I haven’t told her yet because I’m unsure about how much preparation she needs or should have. Can you help me with this?
Thanks for writing, and how exciting! I think you are right not to make a big deal about it too far in advance, because everything is immediate for children that age, and future changes talked about too early can just cause needless anxiety. However, it is a good idea to give her some imagery about a similar situation, through storytelling. About a week before you leave (five days is fine), is a good time to start telling the story. Tell it to her every day, or multiple times a day if she loves it. Make it into a ‘book’ that she can look at with Daddy while you’re gone. Get some printer paper out and draw pictures of the story (it’s OK if they’re stick figures) and staple them together so that you have your very own hand-made picture book. The story should focus on the fact that mothers always come back. I’m just brainstorming, but here’s an idea for a story:
Once upon a time, there was a baby bird who lived in a nest. His mommy and daddy took turns feeding him, and they all snuggled together in their nest at night, and all was good with the world. Then one day the mama bird said, “Son, I need to fly away for a few days, but I’ll fly back home to you.” The baby bird looked at his mother and said, “Are you sure you’ll come back?” “Yes,” said the mother bird, “Mothers always come back.”
Soon the day came when it was time for her to fly away, and she gave her fledgling a kiss, and flapped her wings, and away she went! The daddy bird stayed with the little boy bird, and each day they drew a special picture for the mama bird to tell her what they’d done that day. Each day the baby bird said, “Daddy, will Mama really come back?” and every day the Daddy bird said, “Yes. Mothers always come back.”
Then, when they had a stack of pictures, they heard the flapping of wings and there was Mama Bird once again! “Hello, my sweet family,” she said. “I’m so happy to see you!” She turned to her little boy bird. “Did you know I’d come back?” she said. “Yes!” said the baby, “Mamas always come back.”
Then, one or two days before you leave, tell her that you’ll be like the mama bird and you’ll fly away for a few days, but you’ll be back, because “Mothers always come back.” As her if she and Daddy will draw a picture for you each day to let you know what they did. Then when you say goodbye, be strong and radiate the attitude, “I love you so much, and I’m leaving you in the best of hands.” (see my blog post on Starting Daycare and Saying Goodbye for more ideas on HOW to say goodbye).
Good luck! This is a big step for you, and can be both heart-wrenching and exciting. But it’s also a time for your daughter and Daddy to get a big dose of each other, so know that in fact, you ARE leaving her in the best of hands.
Warmly, ~Miss Faith