Why are goodbyes hard?

Glebe Coop Nursery School students follow new COVID procedures for drop-off
and pick-up. Parents are no longer able to enter the playground during drop-off or
greet their child at the classroom at pick-up. PHOTO: EMILEE HARVEY

Saying goodbye to your child at school

By Kim Unsworth

There is no denying that goodbyes can be difficult! Consider the facts. You have loved, cared for and nurtured your children since the moment you laid eyes on them. You have journeyed with them and shared many experiences together. You have cheered them on and encouraged them at every turn. Is it any wonder your heartstrings are pulled when your child is tightly gripped around your neck, crying and pleading with you not to go during school drop-off? Cue the tears! For some, this is not the experience but for others, this resonates.

School (preschool, daycare, or any regular learning setting) is a new place, a journey your children embark on independent of you. It is a place they will gain confidence, feel a sense of belonging, express themselves, make friends and learn self-help skills. Your children will learn to share their ideas and listen to others share theirs. They will create, laugh, sing, take turns, and grow. All these goals sound wonderful, but it does not necessarily take the sting out of saying goodbye.

Educators know and respect that each child is unique. They are all different, and we applaud those differences. Some children want to be held and given words of affirmation; others want space and time to stand by the sidelines and observe their surroundings. So how can we set the stage for a school drop off and goodbye? Here are a few things to consider.

Giving your child information and details about school sets them up for success. Instead of saying “You are going to love it” or “It is so much fun at school,” share the facts. For example: “This is what is going to happen when we take you. We are going to say goodbye before one of your teachers takes you into the yard. You may feel sad that we are leaving, it’s okay to feel sad. I will see you at the end of the morning.” Simple facts empower your little one and give them confidence in knowing what to expect. This dialogue invites discussion and an opportunity for your child to think about what is coming while still allowing them a chance to ask you any questions they may have.

Watching your child cry at drop off can be incredibly hard. It can cause sadness and doubts about yourself as a parent. It is important to remember that your child’s behaviour is normal. Separation anxiety can start in infants as early as four to five months with most developing it around eight months – it is at this time that young children begin to understand that parents are separate individuals and can leave. Separation anxiety is developmentally appropriate. It is not only present during infancy but can also be exhibited throughout the toddler and preschool years. While it is not fun, it is normal; knowing this can help you to better understand their emotions and set realistic expectations.

Just like bedtime rituals, goodbye rituals can help ease your child’s anxiety or distress when saying “See you later.” Whatever ritual you develop, whether it be a hug and kiss with an “I love you” or two kisses and a silly goodbye face, a wave or a fist bump, it will prompt your child to realize it is time for you to leave. This ritual nurtures predictability, which is reassuring and calming for your child.

Each time you say goodbye, include “I will see you later.” Educators consistently remind the children, especially if they are feeling sad, that “our mom/our dad” always comes back. It is important for children to hear and eventually understand that parents always return. With this message and your consistent pick-up at the end of the school day, they become confident this is indeed true.

These simple steps can guide your child on a path to successful school goodbyes as they adapt to their new surroundings. Goodbyes may always sting a bit for parents, but students will gain confidence as they practice their new routines.

Kim Unsworth is a teacher at the Glebe Coop Nursery School

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