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Goodbye Without Tears
Kindergarten separation anxiety is a real thing for our kids. Not just for them either, it’s hard for us too!
Being able to separate appropriately from our kids is something we need to be practicing from that first date night away from the kids or the first time you drop off your baby to daycare. If we haven’t done the research, we tend to default our goodbyes to whatever is most comfortable, or what speaks to us emotionally.
We don’t always run to the web to find answers until we are facing the problem head-on. It’s nice to feel loved, and we want to have a close connection with our kids.
Teaching them to separate happily from us may seem kind of counter intuitive to this–but I promise it’s not. We want to raise our kids to be active, sensitive, and independent instead of being codependent, needing validation, and anxiety-ridden.
Initially, this post was a part of a kindergarten emotional readiness article I was writing. It ended up being much longer than I had anticipated, and so it was made into its own smaller post. I tell you this because I want you to understand that helping your child become okay with separation is a process–and that’s okay.
There are affiliate links in this article, which means I will get a small commission if you purchase any of these through the link I provide (at no additional cost to you). You can read more about this in my disclaimer.
Practice Leaving Your Child the Right Way
It’s pretty typical for most parents to leave their children with family or a sitter sometimes. We all need some mental health time away from our children, regardless of how much we love them.
Think about how you do the goodbye ritual. Do you sneak out while they are busy? Do you spend a lot of time saying goodbye while you both stand sobbing in each other’s arms?
As I am sure you could guess–both of these goodbyes are not conducive to helping your child grow as an independent person.
Sneaking out while your child is busy is tempting. There is no drama, and you get to skip the hard part of goodbyes.
Personally, I hate goodbyes.
I usually avoid funerals and other similar events for this reason. Despite this, I know that avoiding the goodbye is not helpful to my child so I ground my feet in and do it anyway.
Think about it.
Your highly distractible child is going to be left in an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar people. Do you really believe that your child will just let you slip out the door?
Also, sneaking out can compromise the trust they place in you. Think about it–if your partner randomly disappeared for hours while you were cooking dinner, how would that make you feel?
Communication and trust are critical to a healthy relationship, and at the primary level, it’s about respect for your child as a person.
Now, as far as the dramatic goodbye ritual. I used to tear up while dropping off my four-month-old daughter at daycare. The first few days were tough, as I hadn’t established a plan for the parting of ways that became a daily occurrence. I had not thought about the fact that she felt that I was leaving her forever, because four-month-olds lack an understanding of time.
As you probably know, this is not only a problem with babies. Your young child also struggles with this concept, so it’s understandable why goodbyes are so hard.
At that time I was working outside the home full time and every day I left her we were both filled with tears and drama. Within a week I decided I was done being miserable and did some research, and things got a lot better.
The secret is to establish a goodbye routine and stick to it. For us, it meant two goodbye hugs, a goodbye kiss, and I would tell her to have fun and that I would see her tomorrow. There were still some tears from her, but I kept mine cleverly packed away until I was back in the car.
It got better as time moved on, and to this day I stick to the same routine and there aren’t tears anymore. Granted, with new situations she may become a little emotional, but I stay the calm and confident mom that I am and she is okay once I am five minutes out the door.
Prolonging the goodbye is torturous to your child because, in the end, you still have to leave. You are essentially extending the amount of time they are going to remain upset and working them up more emotionally, whereas if you just left your child would likely bounce back within minutes.
The transition to school will be harder than the transition to a night at grandma’s house, so definitely practice these appropriate goodbyes early. Also, if you have the opportunity to leave them with family they aren’t as familiar with sometimes, do it. They need to learn that they can trust that you will return, and it will help them establish their own independence.
It’s a hard lesson, but a necessary one.
Start Talking About School
Your child soon will enter the massive world of the unknown. Make it less scary by adding it to everyday conversation. If you see a TV program with kids sitting at desks or playing at a playground, comment on how that is what your child will be doing in school.
Make sure you are paying attention to their general vibes and try and ease any worries they may share with you.
Start Some Back To School Traditions
Take your child clothes shopping for some new “school clothes.” Do it at the beginning of August, and don’t let them wear the clothes until school starts.
Traditions such as these can help build up excitement and positive associations about school. A couple of weeks before school starts, take them shopping for all of their school supplies.
Start the morning routine a few weeks to a month before school starts.
Waking up early sucks.
It’s even worse when it’s summer and you know it’s not really necessary. Alas, it is essential if you want your kiddo to be well-adjusted when it’s time to do this five days a week.
Wake them up at the time they need to be up for school, practice juggling breakfast, and getting ready in the allotted amount of time you will have for school. Not only does this get your child into the routine, but it helps you make sure that you are planning for enough time in the mornings.
As a mother, you already know how quickly time can fly when you need to be somewhere at a specific time.
Attend the Open House
Although this may seem like a no-brainer, this step is critical. Let them meet their teacher, see their classroom, and explore the building a little.
I am definitely more comfortable in an environment the second and third time around, so don’t make their first experience in the school environment be their first day of school.
Encourage your child not to stay glued to your hip, and allow the teacher to try and interact with them. Your teacher wants your child to be successful too–remember; teachers don’t teach for the money.
Attend Summer Activities
If there are lunches or other activities during the summer at the school, try and make a point for you and your child to attend.
In my state, most elementary schools offer a free summer lunch program to all kids of elementary age. Because of this opportunity, my child will already be familiar with the school, and she will have positive associations with the building in general.
If your school doesn’t do this, look for any summer programs that may be held at the school. If none of these options are available, that’s okay. Your child can still be successful, as this is just an additional thing you can do to help them be more comfortable when the time comes for school to start.
I don’t recommend hounding your child’s soon-to-be teacher for some one-on-one time during the summer. They are already incredibly busy trying to get everything ready, so don’t push it. It’s rude.
Remember, this is a significant change, and separation anxiety in toddlers is pretty common! Books like The Kissing Hand or When Mama Comes Home Tonight are great books to help ease your child’s anxiety. Sometimes kids need to understand things in their own terms, and explanations through stories often help with this.
Even if your child has been separated from you before, going to school is a whole different ballgame. Prepare them the best you can, and give them some time. Hang in there, mom and dad.
What other things have you tried to help your little one with separation anxiety? I would love to hear about it in the comment section below!