It can seem counterintuitive to do something that you know will make your child cry and even worse, you make them cry and then leave them with someone else (gasp!). It can be so hard that some parents start feeling anxiety before they even arrive at child care, and who can blame them? It is incredibly difficult to walk away from your crying child. The reality is, goodbyes are hard for small children, and their parents. Having sad feelings about that is okay, and actually evidence of secure attachment. The approach of leaving without saying goodbye only buffers the caregiver from the feelings of separation anxiety. You can tell yourself, they are happy and playing, I can go, but as someone who has been there when the child finally realizes their parent is gone, you are not protecting the child from the feelings of separation anxiety, you are actually making it much worse for the child. It can have a negative impact on future drop offs. The child does not know what to expect. It also tells them “if I let go of mommy/daddy and start playing they may disappear and I won’t see them again for a long time. I need to stay close so I can keep them from leaving.”
If you let your child know you are leaving, you can support them as they go through those feelings. Often there is a routine to the goodbye and that helps the child know what to expect. Yes your child will still cry, but I hate to tell you, they cry much longer when they discover you have left later without a goodbye. They feel slighted, tricked and all that trust you’ve been working so hard to build, all the midnight rocking and baby wearing, is just being thrown out the window, so you don’t have to experience the feelings of separation so strongly. Experience it together, like you’ve gotten through all the other hard times together. Continue building that foundation of trust. Eventually it will get easier but there will always be ups and downs, new classroom, vacations, illness, can all impact how sensitive a child feels on any particular morning. That does not mean you don’t take trips and not switch classrooms, rather see this as a chance to help your child develop resiliency by seeing that sadness and feelings of loss are a natural part of the emotional world of every human being.
So what can you do? Always let your child know you are leaving. Talk them through it. “I know it’s sad when I have to go but it’s time for my class and it’s time for you to play with your friends. As soon as my class is over, I will be back and we will go to the park. Miss Alicia over here can give you a hug if you are feeling sad or you can give your bear a hug. I will miss you so much too but I will be back soon.” The difficult part here is that your child will likely still be upset but that’s okay, it’s sad to see mommy go. What it will do is establish a life long foundation of trust.
If you want to join me, and our community of responsive parents, on this wonderfully complex journey of parenting, please join my parenting support group on Facebook https://m.facebook.com/groups/806727139517086
Some parents start feeling anxiety: Positive goodbyes: Helping children and families manage separations: http://ncac.acecqa.gov.au/educator-resources/pcf-articles/Positive_goodbyes_Dec09.pdf
Attachment: Attachment relationships: Quality of care for young children: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/350/350-025/350-025_pdf.pdf
Routine to the goodbye: Make Goodbyes Easier for Children and Parents: http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/350/350-025/350-025_pdf.pdf
Experience it together: The Train Analogy That Will Completely Change How You See Your Crying Child: https://pickanytwo.net/the-train-analogy-that-will-change-how-you-see-your-crying-child/
Always let your child know you are leaving: The Canadian Child Care Federation- Coping with separation anxiety: http://www.cccf-.ca/wp-content/uploads/RS_41-e.pdf