Some of you already know, but we had a lot of years of sad goodbyes with our middle child. The experience (aka trauma) led to a lot of research on my part, and eventually led to a book that put what I had leaned into a format for children.
For anyone who is battling this at the moment, here are some quick suggestions (backed by many psychologists) that I used in my book, Love Wings:
- start talking about the separation in advance, discuss the good about where they are going, the fewer surprises the better
- tell them that you will be back to pick them up at the end of the day
- create a routine and stick to it
- set the expectation that the end of the routine means goodbye. If the child sees that their actions make you stay longer, they'll do what they can to make that happen.
- Nobody doubts the pain of walking away from your child, but if they have the option to cling to you or to learn their own skills of independence, they’ll likely choose you (and we want them to feel more independent!).
- be your own kind of brave. Look calm and in control, do everything you can to show them you are leaving them somewhere safe
- help them understand their feelings are normal - explain to them how some fear can keep them safe from danger. Then, reassure them that they will be safe and you’ll come back for them like you do everyday
If you don't yet have a goodbye routine, here is an example:
Bring them to a place of calm
“Close your eyes, feel your fingers, feel your little toes. Let's take a breath together."
Identifying their feelings + give reassurance
"I know you feel worried and that's normal. Let's take a look around and see if there's anything to worry about. I see 'child' doing this, I see 'child' doing this. What can you see? (ask child to notice something fun) Can you see anything to worry about? (Let child answer, but if no answer, carry on...) Is it possible your brain is tricking you into thinking there is danger when there isn't any? Let’s take one more breath together, and then we’ll be ready to do our (insert your own special goodbye signal here - example could be 5 kisses), and I’ll see you again right in this spot when school is finished.”
Then you need to turn around and leave.
It WILL be hard but remember that you are teaching your child the skill of independence - and after a period of adjustment you will be able to enjoy happy, secure goodbyes.