Saying Goodbye: Supporting Children with this Difficult Transition

Let’s face it.  As a parent, saying goodbye to your child for the day is never easy.  Most of the time, it’s harder on the parent than it is on the child.  However, this is never easy to remember when your child is clung to your leg crying and begging you not to leave.  You immediately fill your mind with guilt and sadness.  For young children, goodbyes can be an extremely emotional experience.  Starting between 6- 8 months old is when children can start experiencing separation anxiety.  It is at this time when children can understand that their parents are their main caregivers and can leave.  However, young children cannot understand the concept that a parent will return until later toddler years.   As disheartening as all this may sound, separation anxiety in children is completely normal.    Here are a few tips how teachers and families can help support their child with this transition and ease their fear.

Start Goodbyes Early

Start a routine with your child every time you have to say goodbye.   Make it short and sweet such as a kiss and wave goodbye.  You don’t want to drag out your goodbyes because this will only allow your child time to become emotional with this transition.   Even if you are running to the store and will be back within 20 minutes, make sure you properly say your goodbye.  The more often to leave with a proper goodbye, the easier and faster your child will start to understand separation.   The most important thing is NOT to sneak out!   This only confuses your child and now makes them worried what happened to you.  Inform your caregiver on your goodbye routine, that way when the breakdown starts, your teacher can immediately start their plan of action. 

Develop a Ritual

Make a goodbye ritual with your child, such as a high-five, fist bump, a special saying, or meeting them at the window.   A childcare teacher should do the same as they great the child in the mornings.  This will help your child understand it’s time for you to leave and start their day at school.  This also is a fun way for your child to look forward to drop-off.   

Get to Know Your Teacher

Try to spend a few minutes at drop-off and pick-up communicating with your caregiver.   It is your caregiver’s job to be communicating their day, what their successes were, and activities that are taking place within the classroom.  Your child will see this positive communication and will help them feel comfortable in their classroom setting.   You will also be able to implement these conversations at home to help remember all the fun that happens at school. 

Picture Displays/Keep Sakes

Provide a family photo for the classroom to display or something meaningful to bring from home to put in their cubby when times get tough.  Items could be their favorite stuff animal, your necklace, or your favorite book you read together.   Something so simple can help your child cope and get through the day with less anxiety. 

Be Timely

Picking your child at the same time consistently helps them not to worry that you may have forgotten about them.  This will gradually help with drop-off; your child will develop a trust that you will not leave them at school forever. 

Be Empathetic

You want your child to know that you understand how they feel.  Parents and caregivers sometimes feel that we are only making the child sadder if we empathize with them, so we try to distract them from their feelings by saying “It’s okay” or “You’re fine.”  This simply tells a child that their feelings are not appropriate and their feelings are not important to us.  The key is to talk to the children about their feelings and that it is ok to feel sad; value their feelings.  By explaining all the emotions that come with separation, we support their social-emotional development can strengthen their trust.  

Reassurance

Every parent has gone through this stage with their child.  It is such a horrible feeling and can flat out ruin the start to a parents work day.  To build trusts with families, caregivers can call or send an email to a parent to let them know how their child’s day is going.  This builds trust in the parent and reassures their child is in good hands while they have to be away.  Parents need to make sure that their child care facility has an open door policy, meaning they are welcomed into the center at any time, or call to see how their child’s day is progressing.