Change the way you perceive goodbyes and they will get better.

I think that we can all agree that saying goodbye is hard to do. Yet is seems that saying goodbye as a young human of this world (i’m talking 9 months-Kindergarten age range… sometimes a little younger and sometimes a little older) tends to be much harder than it is is for us adults. When you are in the moment experiencing “separation anxiety” or  sad goodbyes it may seem like it will never end, it can be heartbreaking. The quivering lip and tear filled eyes get me every time. There are days when saying goodbye is TOO much to handle!

In my opinion the worst are the days that involve someone trying to pry your little child off of your leg that they have suctioned themselves to like a starfish as they cry and flail their arms into the air as you walk away. Most of us have experienced this type of goodbye many times- and when those days occur, it seems like the only solution.
*note from the teacher perspective it breaks their hearts as much as yours.*

And then of course, there are days when a simple goodbye and a wave from the window is the remedy to a broken heart and a fun game with friends seems to be the magic cure. With a wave of relief those moments settle your heart until the emotions soon consume you and you walk to the car with tears running down your face because you feel that your baby no longer needs you… oh sweet Mama (yes Dad’s I am talking to the ladies here because we all know you will never admit that you would cry) that is not the case. They do need you. But the difference here, in the last scenario is that they KNOW that you you are coming back and they understand where you are going.

img_5070Any chance for a picture of Baby Wes I can add into a preschool and school age blog post I will always take full advantage of 🙂

While we may think that these hard goodbyes are related to “separation anxiety”. Know that this isn’t always the case. There is a difference between not wanting to be separated from you vs. separation anxiety. After around 2 years of age the meltdown at goodbye is just because it is the transitionary times of change, from being with Mom and Dad and now going to school without Mom and Dad and adapting a whole new routine. But there is an explanation to why these goodbyes can be so trying at times, an explanation that may help you think differently about your next goodbye. Listen close- this will change your perception of every moment that your sweet little smiling babe turns that smile upside down and is full speed ahead running down the hall with tears in their eyes looking for you as you leave… or the family favorite: falls to the floor crying their little eyes out. Its totally normal.

You may be reading this hating the words “normal” as they are associated with way too many “problems” you want a solution to in the younger years of your child’s life. It seems that every time you need some solace in an answer the experts say “its normal”. Yes, that may not be what you want to hear but when I tell you why it is normal you will feel much better. You may have done some research on this in the past but just in case your new to the concept like so many of us are….

It is all a perception of time and space.

Thanks Google, awesome photo!

As adults we get the concept of time and space. We can tell time no problem, big hand is the hours and little hand is the minutes! And of course we understand the concept of space, hello! The distance from home to the nearest Starbucks is engraved into our brains (.31 miles, two right tuns and one stop sign and you are there). But remember it took you awhile to learn how to read a clock and understand the time of day that sun rises to indicate when to go get your coffee. When our kids are first starting preschool, they haven’t learned that quite yet.

Some experts call it the Sphere of Experience. Sounds smart, huh? This “sphere”is an ever growing bubble of how we perceive time and space. When you are an infant you are only living in the present. Hungry now. Tired now. We never thought as a baby “oh I think I should cry now because in about 15 min I will be hungry and ready for a bottle.” As adults we fully understand the concept of our memories  and experiences in the past, we think about and plan for the future and we understand that we are currently living in the present (although it is often hard to enjoy it as we are constantly dwelling on the past and anticipating the future).

While we know that when Mom or Dad leaves, they will come back in 2 hours and 30 min. But when you are 1 years old. Mom leaves, she disappeared and is gone. There is no thought of coming back, she is just gone. When they get a little older, their sphere of experience grows a little more, they slowly understand that Mom and Dad do come back, but they cannot perceive where they are, they have obviously disappeared. Then they get a little older. Finally realizing okay, Mom and Dad leave, and I can remember that they come back and I can remember what their office looks like at their work, so I understand that they leave and go to work in their office, but I am scared because I don’t quite know how long. As they get older that too begins to make more sense. They can soon watch the clock and understand that the preschool day ends for them at 3oclock and they know to watch for the big hand on the 3 and the little hand on the 12 and they will be picked up while they are playing outside.


Goodbyes are SO HARD. But they get easier when your child begins to understand where you are and when they will see you again. BECAUSE THEY WILL. Some kids will always have a hard time saying goodbye. Some kids will have an easier time, each kid is different and has a different temperament that will help indicate how they will react. And THAT IS NORMAL. But trust me, the sticky starfish phase will not last forever. Some days will be harder than others, but remember that their sphere of experience is still limited and it is rapidly growing. Be grateful that your babies are still living in the present. They have more vague concepts of past and future than we do but they are LIVING to the fullest each day in the here and now and that is a beautiful gift. So when goodbyes are hard, love on them with all you have and remind them of the routine that you have created with them and help them understand where you are going, why you are going there and when you will be back…and that you love them THIS BIG.

We are now 4 months into school. This means that essentially you and your child have now created a routine preparing each day for school. Your routine may look something like: get out of bed, have some breakfast, brush your teeth, get dressed, go to school, play with friends at school, get picked up, go home. This schedule you may not think too much about for it is just your “usual” but as preschoolers this routine is CRUCIAL to their success. The unknown is scary for everyone. As adults we are prepared for each day- we know the routine of getting ready, going to work, picking up kids, going home. Now imagine not knowing what every single day has in hold and you are told go here do that and then Mom and Dad suddenly aren’t there and you aren’t sure where they went or when they come back. I would cry too. Unknown transitions hare hard to deal with. Continue your routine, and the transitions will become more familiar and less intimidating. If after a reasonable amount of time you are noticing that goodbye are still hard, reinforce and remind your sweet little baby that there is a routine: tell them, draw them pictures, allow them time to learn and process. Stick with it. They need that consistency and remember in transitionary times at home and school, they may have a harder time at “goodbyes.”

“Now why are you telling us this now and now…. wouldn’t it be more helpful at the beginning of the year?….” is what you are thinking.

Answer: why yes, yes it would have, but that didn’t cross my mind and I assure you that after a nice Christmas break at home and a visit from Santa Clause… some of us will unfortunately face the reality that the routine was interrupted and our kids (while excited to go back to school to see teachers and friends) may suction cup themselves to your leg in a starfish fashion because they are again facing the new routine, and the elusive disappearance of Mom and Dad that they had grown accustomed to seeing a lot of over Christmas break is now unfamiliar again. IT IS OKAY! We are all hear for you. We all go through it. They have not perceived the world how you have quite yet.. they will get there.

Tips to help overcome the hard “goodbyes”:

  1. Remind them of the schedule.
  2. Talk about going back to school during break… sorry.
  3. No matter how tempting it is- DON’T (please don’t!) sneak away when they aren’t looking. Remember they are new to understanding that you aren’t gone forever.
  4. Say goodbye at the threshold of the classroom door. This separation will help them understand and feel at ease that preschool is there special place while you are away.
  5. Remind yourself that they have only been on this earth for 3-5 years. They are still learning the ropes to how this whole “life” this works.
  6. Give them extra love, because that is what everyone always needs when they are sad or scared.
  7. Never forget: WE are here for you with plenty of tips and suggestions to help with the individuality of each child/family.


Love always,

The Children’s Center


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