s a home-based day care provider, I am often asked for my best advice to help ease the “goodbye drama” that sometimes happens when a parent leaves his or her child at day care. For new parents, this is a big concern. Will my child cry? Will my child suffer? Will my child understand?
My answer is always the same, “It depends on your child’s age and it may actually be harder on you than on them.” Of course, this doesn’t mean your child won’t cry or cling onto you or sometimes even melt down for a moment, but it does mean that this transition from parent to child care provider or teacher is usually fleeting and absolutely dramatized.
I have had children start in my day care as infants or young toddlers who pleasantly say goodbye with a wave and smile for months and even years, and then suddenly the goodbye drama begins. My heart always goes out to these parents. It is such a hard experience, especially if they were used to a smooth goodbye.
If your child suddenly starts the goodbye drama, please keep three things in mind before immediately assuming there is a problem:
- Children are incredibly smart and perceptive – they can sense if you are stressed or frazzled because you are running late, or if you are feeling emotional about saying goodbye.
- Children crave (demand) their parent’s attention and time. No, it is never enough. So, they will test you to see if melting down gets them that extra attention.
- Children go through many developmental changes that may affect their ability to separate well.
Here is my best advice for parents experiencing goodbye drama when dropping off their children at day care or at school.
1. Be consistent. If one parent usually drops off and the other picks up, try to keep it consistent. Do not be surprised if your child does not react well with unexpected changes in routine. Also, if one morning you decide to spend an extra hour with your child playing or doing something that may signal a stay home day, do not be surprised if your child gets upset when he/she realizes it is actually a day care day.
2. Create a goodbye routine. If you help your child hang up his/her coat and then give a kiss and hug before turning and leaving with a wave, then do not break that routine by one day sitting and playing. Also, if you regularly sit and start your child on an activity before saying goodbye, do not try to shortcut the goodbye because you are running late. Remember, be consistent.
3. Do not linger. Regardless of your goodbye routine, do not linger too long in the mornings. If your child is given the impression that you may stay, of course he/she will be unhappy when you actually leave.
4. Control your emotions. Remember when I said children are smart and perceptive? There is a reason your child will choose the day you are most stressed or running late to a meeting to collapse on the floor screaming when you say goodbye. Never tell your child you are running late, or show signs of stress. This will place undue stress on your child and will make the morning miserable for everyone. Also, keep your emotions positive. If you seem sad to leave, your child will think he/she should be sad too. Always try to leave with a smile.
5. Do not take it personally. Sometimes, even if you do everything “right” your child may cry as you leave. Your child could be tired, hungry, coming down with a cold, frustrated that he/she couldn’t pick out their outfit, upset that their favorite friend isn’t there yet, wishing for another trip to the zoo, or just trying to let you know how much they love you. Whatever the reason, these sad goodbyes do not usually last longer than it takes you to get back into your car. It does not mean they hate you for leaving them in day care.
6. Communicate with your caregiver. If you are concerned, then do not be afraid to call your provider to see how long the crying lasted. Communicate openly with your caregiver and ask what is recommended. If you follow all the advice and believe there is an underlying problem, then trust your instincts and do not be afraid to take a longer look at what is happening. Maybe there is a troublesome dynamic forming at school with a peer. A quality caregiver/teacher will be open to your concerns and will work with you to determine your child’s triggers.
7. Recognize your child’s stage of development. Separation anxiety can start without warning and can be a difficult time for both parent and child.
Most importantly, remember that each phase will one day end. You will get through it and one day you may even be sad when you realize that your child simply prefers to run off and play without looking back to say goodbye.
Nicole Dash is a writer, blogger and child care business owner who lives in Annandale, VA with her husband and four children. Nicole writes about family, life, parenting and caring for children on her heartfelt blog Tiny Steps Mommy. She also enjoys connecting with her growing community of friends on the Tiny Steps Mommy Facebook page.