Young Children's Adaptations to Repeated Separations from Their Mothers

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11 Scopus citations


80 infants, toddlers, and preschoolers were observed before, during, and after separations from their mothers, who were attending conferences (M duration = 4 days). Half the sample was separated only once and the other half experienced 3 separations across a 6-month period. The study was designed: (a) to determine how separations affect children's behavior when there are no changes in the family constellation as there typically are during other separations, such as the birth of a new child, and (b) to determine the effects of repeated separations. Fewer changes in sleep and play behaviors suggested that this type of separation was less stressful than separations for the birth of another child. Nonetheless, the separations were still stressful, but principally for the single-separation group. In that group, changes were noted in both play and sleep behaviors. Following reunion, their sleep behaviors and more sophisticated play behaviors returned to baseline. However, activity level and the more insecure behaviors, such as wandering aimlessly, watching other children play, and interacting with their teachers, remained elevated following the mother's return. The multiple-separation group, in contrast, showed only 1 behavior change during their third separation, i.e., reduced interactions with their peers during the separation period, which returned to baseline following reunion. Repeated-measures analyses of the first and third separations of the multiple-separations group suggested that only the first separation was stressful. Thus, the infants and children in this study seemed to adapt to repeated separations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-547
Number of pages9
JournalChild development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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