Healing a Separation Trauma

When your child experiences a traumatic separation, there are simple, practical things you can do to help.
Photo (C) BelleMedia 2009

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When my daughter Allie was about four, I took her over to my Grandma's house for a visit. Grandma lives in a tidy, quiet neighborhood, so I let Allie play outside while Grandma and I made a pot of tea and talked.

My Grandma's neighbor, an elderly woman, opened the door and invited Allie inside. She went. The woman, who was drunk at the time, closed the door and kept Allie there, terror stricken, for about twenty minutes. I found out later that nothing overtly harmful happened, but Allie had asked to leave again and again, and the woman wouldn't let her out the door. The woman apparently rambled and talked nonsensically, then finally opened the door and let Allie run back to find me.

She ran to me and cried and trembled and could barely talk about what had happened at first. I felt terrible, of course. I held Allie and let her cry and tremble and cling and talk for a long time and slowly I pieced the story together. In the next several days, she cried frequently about the incident. She was adamant that she was never going there again. Never! When she seemed to be mostly over her periodic cries, I figured that we had to go back to Grandma's. Allie needed to see that she was safe, even there, and that the incident was over. It was not going to happen again.

I didn't want to force her to go to Grandma's against her will. She had already been forced to stay at the neighbor's house against her will! I figured that I needed to find a way to help Allie work on what had happened and feel powerful at the same time.

Finally I figured out a way to use Playlistening to help. I got a long rope from the garage, and I told Allie that some day we were going back to Grandma's but that we were going to tie ourselves together so no one could separate us! Allie laughed and the play began. I played the old neighbor, and Allie tied me up over and over with much laughter. I struggled and begged and pleaded to be released. Allie laughed and was heartless. We giggled and wrestled, tried to “get” each other with the rope, and planned how best to tie ourselves together for the trip to Grandma's.

After awhile, I figured it was time for the real thing. I asked Allie if she was ready to go. That neighbor had moved away, so I told her that. It would certainly be safe. She agreed to go.

We brought our rope and tied ourselves together on the front lawn. We were inseparable. We hobbled over to the neighbor's empty house, with lots of laughter. Allie wanted to peek in the windows. I said she'd have to get untied so I could lift her up. She wasn't afraid. We untied ourselves and looked in to see the place where she had been briefly imprisoned. We talked a little, noticed everything, gathered up our ropes, and went to Grandma's. Allie's fears were gone.

— a mother in Menlo Park, CA.

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