Taming Tearful Goodbyes

Limit the stress of separation anxiety with these easy steps.


Taming Tearful Goodbyes

Photo: Gerri Photography

Have you experienced teary tantrum-filled goodbyes when it is time to leave your little one at day care? Separation anxiety is a common and appropriate part of growing up. But it is hard on both parent and child. With careful planning and preparation though, you can help your child through this challenging and emotional transition.

Here are some strategies that can help minimize the stress for you, your child, and your caregiver.

  • Share information with your child’s caregiver. Let the caregiver know your child’s likes and dislikes, daily routine at home, and anything else that will help smooth the transition from home to childcare. Ask your child’s caregiver what strategies the daycare uses to help children who are entering daycare. Perhaps she gives new children special jobs to help them feel comfortable at the beginning. Working in tandem with your child’s caregiver will help at the beginning of care, and will also help in the future if developmental or behavioural concerns arise.
  • Visit the new setting with your child. Before your child’s first full day with a new caregiver, take him for a short visit or two to the centre. Show your child where he will be eating, sleeping and playing. Introduce him to the caregivers and the other children who will be there when he comes back. Let him play with the other kids and pay attention to the toys he enjoys. Use this information to prepare him for his first day without you – “remember the great train set you played with?”
  • Start out part-time. Ease your child into the new childcare arrangement slowly with one or two hour visits to the daycare on the first few days. Gradually build upon the hours your child will be away from you to minimize her anxiety.
  • Prepare the night before. An unhurried morning can help reduce everyone’s stress level. Plan your morning the night before, at least for the first week. If your child is old enough, ask him to help pack for daycare, and lay out his clothing for the next day. Get younger children involved by allowing them to make choices between items, e.g., white or blue socks, grapes or apple.
  • Develop a “goodbye” routine. From the day she was born, you and your child have been building a trusting relationship, which is critical to her development. Rituals like saying goodbye the same way every day, even if it is very hard for both of you, continue to build that trust. Your child is learning that you will return as promised and she will begin to settle into her new routine. Develop a special way to say goodbye, such as a big bear hug or a silly handshake and a kiss. Ask older children to choose how they would like to say goodbye.
  • Don’t try to sneak out. Regardless of how tempting it may seem, never sneak out while your child is distracted. This destroys trust and will encourage your child to cling all the more on future occasions. Take the time to say goodbye and leave your child with a positive picture of what you will do together at the end of the day – i.e., “Save a big hug for me when I pick you up! Then we will go home and make dinner together.”
  • Bring a comfort item from home. A favourite blanket, teddy bear or picture of your family will help comfort your child when he needs it. Or put together a small photo album of your family that your child can look at when it is time for a nap. At night, you can give him a photo album filled with pictures of kids playing at the daycare centre to help prepare him for the following day.

Accept the fact that there will be some adjustment during this period and that your child will adapt at her own pace. If you’re worried, arrange for a time to talk to your child’s caregiver to find out how she is settling in.

Stress from separations and new situations can be very challenging for the entire family, but by pre-planning, adjusting your expectations, and employing the strategies above, this adjustment period can be brief.

Author: Trish Bucholtz

Trish Bucholtz, E.C.E, is a childcare resource consultant with the Peterborough Family Resource Centre

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