Learning to Say Goodbye
It's time to go to work, or you need to leave your child with a caregiver
for a few hours.
As you try to walk out the door, your child starts crying, kicking, and
whining. You may feel
guilty about leaving and embarrassed that your child is acting like
this. But what do you do?
As bad as this might make you feel, remember that your child's behavior
is normal. Young children often don't like having to be separated from
their parents, but they need to learn to say goodbye.
Your child needs chances to learn that although you leave, you will come
back. Remember, too, that those tantrums are a sign
that your child loves you. As children learn that a parent who is
leaving will come back, they begin to feel more secure, and saying goodbye
How to Make Goodbyes
There are some things you can do to help your child prepare for you to
- Let your child know what to expect. Explain what will happen while
you are gone: "You're going to Grandma's. She'll make cookies with
- Let your child know when you are coming back. Use a time frame that
she will understand, such as after a routine activity: "I'll be back
when your nap is over."
- If you're taking your child somewhere away from home, let him take
a favorite blanket or toy. Something familiar can help ease unsure
- Tell your child you are leavingdon't just
disappear. This will help your child develop the security she
needs, and it will make goodbyes easier in the long run.
- Keep your goodbyes short. Give your child a quick hug and kiss, then
leave. Long goodbyes can make things more difficult.
- Follow a routine. If you leave your child every day, saying goodbye
in the same way each time helps him know what to expect and feel more
- Call if any plans change or if you'll be
late to keep your child from worrying or being afraid that you won't
return. Staying in touch will build trust.
What to Do If You're Feeling Worried
Though there may be tears when you leave, remember that your child will
probably be playing happily a few minutes later.
If you are upset or worried about leaving your child, you can do some
things to ease your concern.
- Let your caregiver know of any special needs
or desires your child has, such as a stuffed animal at naptime,
a special snack, or a favorite story.
- After you reach your destination, call the caregiver to see how your
child is doing.
What to Do When You Come Back
Coming back to your child should be a good experience.
There are ways to make this time an important part of learning to say
- When you return, take a few minutes to give your child some special
attention: "Taylor, I'm so glad to see you! Let me see your puzzle."
- Share with your child what went on while the two of you were apart.
- Ask your child's caregiver how their time went. Find out what your
child did while you were gone so you can talk about it together.
- Don't be surprised if your child ignores you.
Remember, he may be busy playing, or she may still be angry that you
left. Your child is still learning about goodbyes.
What to Do If
You'll Be Away for a Long Time
There may be times when separation is more difficult for you and your
Sometimes parents must leave for several days or more. To make long separations
easier, try these ideas:
- Give your child photos of family members to look at while you are
- Leave Mom's favorite sweater or Dad's t-shirt; sometimes a
familiar item will comfort a child.
- Record your child's favorite story on a cassette tape to listen to
while you're gone.
- Call your child while you're away, but keep in mind that hearing
your voice may be upsetting.
When children have a really hard time with separations, they may show
grief, loss, anger, clinging, whining, or babyish behavior like thumb
sucking or having toilet accidents. Remember that it
takes time to learn to accept change. Be patient and reassuring. Children
need parents to be calm and confident as they learn to say goodbye.
Resources That Help
Sometimes books can help children understand saying goodbye. You may
want to read one or more of the books listed here to your child. Check
your local library or bookstore for these and other books about saying
- Anna Marie's Blanket by Joanne Barkan (Barron's Educational
- Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (Firefly Books Ltd., 1986).
- First Day at Day Care by Ellen Weiss (Simon & Schuster Children's
Publishing Division, 1996).
- Will You Come Back for Me? by Ann Tompert (Albert Whitman
& Company, 1988).