Separation can be a complex and emotional time for children and their parents. Some children say goodbye on the first day of school and never look back. Others seem fine at first, but experience feelings of anxiety or sadness weeks after they begin school. Still others seem as though they will never be OK without a parent nearby. Parents may also experience mixed feelings: excitement, sadness, concern. It’s important to remember that the feelings and the process may differ from family to family, but the goal of having our children feel safe and secure when saying goodbye, is one we all share.
What allows children to gently move into a new environment is a feeling of connectedness. This connection can be with a teacher, other children, or an object in the classroom. Teachers and parents can help establish this connection. Bringing a family picture or a “lovie” (blanket, soft toy) to keep in the cubby helps some children. Sometimes, handing your child something from your purse or your pocket to keep until you return, can be reassuring.
The decision of when to leave should be made by the parent, with the teacher’s help. The most important thing is to always say goodbye before leaving. Although it might seem that sneaking out will be less painful for the child, the opposite is usually true. A child may not let his/her parent out of sight if s/he feels that the parent may disappear at any time.
Our experience is that a brief goodbye with the reassurance that the parent will return, works best for most children. Reassure your child that the teachers are there to take care of him/her. Teachers will give children snack, help them in the bathroom, and comfort them when they cry. This helps teachers establish a secure and trusting attachment with their students.
Saying goodbye but not leaving can be confusing for children. They may pick up on a parent’s ambivalence and feel more nervous. They may wonder if they truly can trust the teacher. So when you say goodbye, mean it. Teachers are prepared to comfort a crying child, or help an angry child find a positive outlet for their feelings after a parent leaves. The office is always open to help a sad, crying or anxious parent, too! Feel free to call the school during the day to check on your child. Separation can be a very emotional experience, and at Seedlings, we are here to help your family through it!