Thursday, September 27, 2012

It's Been One of Those Weeks (or, dealing with difficult toddler emtions)

I've written previously about L's intense attachment to her dad. It's amazing. She is happy just being in the same room with him. However, as she's gotten older and is better able to express herself, we've been struggling to help her process her emotions. She really misses him when he's at work. The weekends are not long enough. The evenings are too short. Our early mornings helping him get ready for work pass too quickly.

He has to go to work. She wants him to stay home.

Even though he has an awesome job, it's hard that he's gone so much. In reality I know we're really lucky--he works regular hours, (usually) has two days off together each each week, doesn't travel much, and we can visit him at work. It could be much, much worse. Unfortunately, none of that matters when you're two years old. All she knows is that he gets up five days a week and leaves the house.

That's why we've been struggling with toddler emotions lately.

Tuesdays are generally difficult because it's his first day back to work after his weekend. She's always sad when he leaves and cries for her daddy periodically throughout the day. After our awesome weekend at the beach and two days of his undivided attention, Tuesday was really bad. Wednesday wasn't a whole lot better.

It starts first thing in the morning when she realizes he has to go to work. You can see the intense disappointment in her face when she sees him in his work clothes. She hugs him and doesn't want to let go. She begs him to stay home. She clings to him until he leaves. It's heartbreaking. We talk about missing daddy and how he'll be home later in the day. I let her cry when she needs too and encourage her to let it all out. I don't know what else to do. I don't want her to bottle up such intense emotions. 

Yesterday, after our third or fourth meltdown of the day, I asked if she wanted to go visit daddy at work. She was instantly a different person--happy, excited, energetic, relaxed. So, we hopped in the car and went for a visit. Walking to his office she said, "I'm going to give daddy a big hug and a big kiss and tell him I love him soooooo much!"

And she did just that. After just a few minutes with him she was calm and relaxed and agreeable. She was smiling and laughing. When we had to leave she was okay too. Since I knew she wouldn't see him before she went to sleep last night I decided we should try to make the evening special just for the two of us. We stopped at the grocery store and bought stove top popcorn, blueberries, and nectarines. I made salad and we had a picnic dinner on the floor in the living room and watched part of her favorite movie.
We had a really nice evening. L said she, "loved having special dinner". We snuggled in her bed and she fell asleep without any struggle.

I thought maybe today would be better. 

This morning she was happy to see J and sad to see him getting ready for work. She didn't have a breakdown until after he left. As soon as J left, she changed. She was upset with me about everything little thing. I tried to get her excited about going to school (we had our homeschool co-op today and she'd been excited before J left) but she wasn't. I tried to get her to do yoga with me. Normally that is something she really enjoys but it ended with her yelling at me and actually hitting me. Totally not her normal behavior. 

When we got in the car to leave for school I asked her to take some deep breathes with me and start fresh. I asked her if she was still upset with me and she said yes. I asked why and she said, "because I want my daddy."

I know this is a phase of some sort. Some weeks are better and some are worse. I know she really misses him. I know I need to be patient. I know I need to help her find healthy ways to express herself. I know I need to not take it personally when she says she doesn't like being home with me. I've been working on a project that (I'm hoping) will help her deal with the separation a little better. It should be in my hand on Monday and I can hardly wait to see if it makes a difference...if it doesn't help, I'm running out of ideas.

Do you have any tips for helping a toddler understand and express difficult emotions?


  1. There's a company that makes "daddy dolls" for the children of deployed men and women (soft, stuffed "dolls" made from a print out of a picture) to help remind young children of their absent parents and help them deal with the separation. Perhaps something like that, so she could "have daddy near by" -or maybe a small photo album with pictures of her and daddy, too?

    My other idea was that she could "write" a letter to daddy - it could be an ongoing thing throughout the day so that she could have a little control over keeping daddy informed/active when he's not at home.

    1. - It's not just for families of enlisted personel; they encourage making a doll of any relative (grandparent, etc.) who the child is attached to and misses.

    2. Thanks! What a great idea!

  2. For my son, separation was particularly difficult. I had a calendar made, that would hang within his view. We would put stickers on the days that I didn't have school (college was a full-time day at that point). Everyday we would check the calendar and I would point out that in one day we would be able to have our normal nightly storytime or we would have the day together, etc. we also read The Kissing Hand and practiced kissing each others palms so that we could save the kisses all day long until we could see each other again. For the most part, what worked was consistency. I could not visit him at his school during the day because that seemed to make the separation that much harder. He kept his own laminated picture of me with him all day (he had a bear with a cute little insert for a pic on the belly) and I would tell him he could hug 'me' all day until I returned. Hope that helps:) -Danica

    1. I love the calendar idea! We've been looking at the calendar a bit to help her understand how much longer until the baby comes...but this would be great too. I'm going to see if I can find that book at our library! Thanks!



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