Lucy Daniels Center clinicians have long counseled parents to think carefully about the possible negative effects of excessively long separations from their very young children.

It has become almost commonplace for parents to take a weekend away from their infant, for example, as parents are told by some professionals that children might have a temporary response but it is otherwise a safe thing for parents to do. We, along with many – perhaps most – experts in early childhood development, are concerned that excessively lengthy separations entail the risk of negatively impacting on a child’s emotional development, perhaps in some situations even significantly affecting such matters as their ability to separate, manage anxiety, and trust and relate to others.

There is no conclusive evidence for these concerns, and it remains a piece of clinical wisdom. There are, however, many lines of research and clinical support for these concerns. A very interesting recent study out of Columbia University provides yet another line of evidence. We quote from the published abstract of the study referenced below: “Extended maternal separations before age 5 were evaluated as a predictor of long-term risk for offspring borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms… Early separations from mother predicted elevations in BPD symptoms assessed repeatedly from early adolescence to middle adulthood.”

Our comments: Borderline Personality Disorder is a debilitating and usually severe condition; this study by no means should be taken to suggest that extended maternal separations will cause this condition in most situations. However, it is another piece of evidence that extended separations introduce negative rather than positive factors in a child’s emotional mix.

When is a separation too long? Why are they a problem? And, how can the risks of a separation be reduced? We have discussed these issues in an Ask Lucy Daniels Center column that is available as a pdf download on the Lucy Daniels Center website at: http://lucydanielscenter.org/page/lengthy-separations-between-child-and-parent. Parents might also be interested in the Lucy Daniels Center’s Lucy’s Book Club current topic: Feeling Strong on My Own (http://www.lucysbookclub.org.) The focus of the recommended books for children and parents is on separation and successful transitions (both of which can be negatively affected by excessively long separations.)


* Columbia University Study: Crawford TN, Cohen PR, Chen H, Anglin DM, Ehrensaft M. Early maternal separation and the trajectory of borderline personality disorder symptoms. Dev Psychopathol. 2009 Summer;21(3):1013-30. 

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