1995 / 4月
Laura Li /tr. by Robert Taylor
"There's nothing so terrible about change in itself, but if parents' fail to respond properly to the child's needs before and after the change, this is an important reason for problems arising," says child-rearing specialist You Chien-kwei.
So what should parents do to keep to a minimum any harm caused by changing a child's care arrangements?
"A child is a living being, you can't go switching carers just as you please," says You Yuan Foundation president Huang Lun-fen, who has many years' experience giving guidance to parents. She notes that to this end, "thinking carefully from the start" is a principle which one should always keep in mind: "It's no good just thinking about pressure from other family members, or convenience, or how to save effort or money, and overlooking the child's best interests!"
Mrs. Lin, a nanny who has looked after many children for families in her neighborhood, recounts her experience in looking after two sisters. She looked after the older girl from when she was a baby, and she settled in very well. But after the birth of her sister, two years her junior, the children's grandmother longed for contact with them, and their mother felt that looking after two children after she came home from work would be too tiring. For these reasons, and to save money too, the family sent the younger sister to her grandparents' in the country. There she stayed until she was four years old, but by then she had become too much for her grandmother, so she was brought back to Taipei to go to kindergarten, and after kindergarten she would go with her older sister to Mrs. Lin's home.
But Mrs. Lin, perhaps because she had not looked after the child since she was small and so could not build the same affection for her, always felt that the younger sister brought up by her "granny in the country" was arrogant and bossy and "wouldn't behave." And because the sisters had been living apart for so long, they would argue and fight whenever they met. In the end this all became too much for Mrs. Lin and she asked the girls' mother to "take both of them away together." Only then did the mother begin to regret not having thought things through more carefully when her second child was born, for if she had done so today's problems might have been avoided.
Of course, few parents have the resources or ability to plan for and overcome every potential turn of events. But when change becomes inevitable, to avoid "one false move bringing disaster," the most urgent need is for parents to provide continuity and to help their children readjust.
The first thing to note is that "during this time neither the parents nor the carer must try to turn the child against the other party, to avoid making things even more painful and complicated," as Yu-wen Hsieh, deputy executive director of the Hsin Yi Foundation warns.
For instance, some parents, disgruntled when a nanny quits, may say angrily to their child: "Mrs. Li is nasty, you mustn't love her any more, and you mustn't go to her house again." Or a nanny dissatisfied with a child's parents may say to the child: "If you're not good, I won't love you any more and I won't let you come to my house."
In the ears of a small child with no understanding of the world, such emotionally-charged words have the force of a terrifying Last Judgement. Some children may be confused because they still secretly love the "nasty" nanny, while others feel guilty because they think she must have sent them away for not being "good." Other negative and immensely wounding emotions which may burden their little souls include anxiety, anger, grief, frustration and a sense of abandonment, or a shattered sense of trust in their carers.
To reduce the damage and pain to a minimum, Yu-wen Hsieh suggests that whenever possible, parents should maintain a friendly relationship with the former carer, and arrange visits from time to time. This tells children that the separation does not mean abandonment or the end of the relationship, and can help them to take it in their stride.
Steps to "soften the blow and maintain continuity" are also essential at this time.
"Many parents think that if the child is still small, they needn't explain very much, so the child is suddenly thrust into a new environment for which it is mentally completely unprepared." After seeing many cases of children unable to readjust after a change, Huang Lun-fen suggests that if the child is old enough to understand what its parents say to it, they should tell it as early as possible that "we'll be going to a new place, we won't be coming here any more."
Of course, when the child first hears this bad news it may be confused or anxious, but it is better to give it the opportunity to express its anxiety and try to sooth its fears, than to allow the anxiety to stay bottled up inside the child. Even more importantly, "one should give the child time to say goodbye to the carer it loves in its own way. This will reduce the sense of loss or abandonment.
As well as saying goodbye to the old environment, it is just as important to gradually accustom the child to the new one. For instance, before the changeover one can take the child to the new place (the nanny's home, daycare center, kindergarten etc.) for an hour or two and show it the things that will be fun or interesting, to give it something to look forward to. If the child has any special characteristics such as being rather quiet or rather lively, or having a poor appetite, it is a good idea to tell the new carer as early as possible.
When the actual change comes, "parents must show extra love and concern to make up for the child's sense of loss and to compensate for the fact that it has not yet had time to build up a love for the new carer," says You Chien-kwei, stressing that at this stage one must let the child know that its parents' love is permanent and unchanging, and in this way soften the blow which the change in its environment causes.
It goes without saying that to fulfill this function, parents must have maintained a close relationship with the child since it was small. Thus children who are given into others' care24 hours a day as soon as they are born, or who are sent to live with relatives in the countryside and only get to see their parents at weekends and holidays, will be particularly distressed and disoriented by any change, and the problem of helping them to adjust will be more difficult.
"It's especially important for the father to be around at this critical time," says Huang Lun-fen, stressing a point which is often overlooked: during the period of changeover between different carers, if the mother bears the brunt of the problems she is very likely to be mentally and physically exhausted and irritable. If at this time the father can support her by sharing the burden of finding and choosing a new nanny, looking after the child and so on, it will make things much easier.
In addition, Huang Lun-fen suggests that "in general, parents should teach their children to eat normally and be regular in their habits. One should try to keep younger children from getting into the habit of being too bossy or too clinging, and one can encourage slightly older children to be more independent, and teach them how to be friends with other children."
In fact, change is a basic feature of modern society, so rather than fearing change, isn't it better to be prepared for it?
A change in care arrangements can be difficult to avoid, but the unchanging love of his or her own family is what a child relies on most. (photo by Hsueh Chi-kuang)