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Making Preschool Goodbyes Easier

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | December 20, 2010 | Child Development

By Dr. Heather

When my first child started preschool, I dreaded it for weeks. Would she cry? What if she needed me? As a parenting psychologist, I knew that my child was developmentally ready for preschool. But the parent in me was nervous. With the help of a fantastic teacher, the actual experience was a lot easier than I anticipated.

Parents are usually far more traumatized than their children when saying goodbye. Having a child is a 24-hour-a-day, overwhelming responsibility. Handing that responsibility over to a teacher can be difficult — but it’s also an important milestone in the growth of your child (and your growth as a parent).

It’s important to know that when your child cries at separations, it shows a healthy attachment to you. That’s a good thing. Leaving a crying child doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making the wrong decision, and won’t be “traumatizing” for most children. Most children protest for a few minutes, and then settle in nicely with their class activities.

Tips for dealing with goodbyes

Now that I’ve lived through it a few times, I’ve found some things that help make those goodbyes better:

  • Introduce your child to the classroom, teachers and other children in advance. Allow some time to get used to the new environment.
  • Talk to your child — often — about school, and review the class schedule and activities. Let them know what to expect. Let them know things like, “After Circle Time, Mommy will come and pick you up. Then we can go to the grocery store to pick up some food for our dinner tonight.”
  • Adopt some of the classroom activities for your home, like singing classroom songs, to make home feel more like school and school feel more like home.
  • Make play dates with classroom friends, offer to help in the class and be involved in your child’s work.
  • When saying goodbye, be confident, encouraging — and brief. To build trust, don’t ever sneak away. Give a hug, tuck a special note in your child’s pocket to help him feel brave and make your exit.
  • Children pick up on our feelings. Make sure you express confidence, support and enthusiasm, even if there are tears.
  • Trust that the teacher will call you if there are any problems.

Your child’s adjustment over a period of weeks is your best barometer of how she’s doing. And don’t be surprised if she starts out the school year easily — but then protests going to school later on. Take her fears seriously, be reassuring, and then build her confidence again by getting back into the classroom. Stay in close touch with the teacher to gain insights and updates about your child’s adjustment.

Your child’s adjustment to preschool is an important milestone. Independence, social skills and learning all thrive in preschool. Your “goodbye” can mean “hello” to wonderful new experiences for your child!