Babies and toddlers don’t understand that what they can’t see is still in existence. That includes you! So once they are mobile, they follow you and check your whereabouts throughout the day.
During their second year, however, they learn that you are a constant in their lives even when you aren’t visible. This takes time however and there may be regressions during stressful times.
Some children have trouble holding on to this understanding at night when the lights are out. The dark symbolizes the unknown. That’s when they call out for you or visit you in your bed and want to check to make sure you are there. Respond lovingly taking them back to their beds and they are reassured once again that even though you are physically absent you are just in the next room.
How Do You Strengthen the Child’s Understanding that What Can’t Be Seen is Still There?
1. During the early years playing games like hide and seek help the child master this notion that what can’t be seen can be found. They like to play it endlessly because they are testing out this idea and want to continually be reassured.
2. Tell your child when you leave a room where you can be found. This, too, is reassuring and the child can discover they can trust you by checking what you’ve said.
3. Build trust by calling your child if they are wary of visiting at a friend’s house to ease the transition away from home which once again reassures them they can get you if needed.
4. During primary school, the child has internalized what can’t be seen, can be found. But if they don’t feel well, for example and go to the nurse, speaking on the phone with them and if needed, picking them up from school, continues to build the trust that you are there when needed.
5. Explain to kids what promises mean and they will learn that you follow through on what you say. This, too, builds trust.
6. Regular routines in the home build trust because then kids know what to expect and experience a sense of security.
In other words, as kids grow older their capacity for trust is furthered by increased cognitive development and testing the waters on their own. Trust is also reinforced as they come to learn you listen to them and understand their strengths and weaknesses as you accept who they are. Trust is at the core of the parent-child relationship even during adolescence. It builds the parent-child bond.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior found on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Visit her website for more parental guidance at www.lauriehollmanphd.com.