Montessori Mondays: Being on the Other Side

For years, I was the teacher, but here is Coco a few months ago receiving a lesson on the Cylinder Block from one of J's colleagues. She loved it and it was so fun for me to see her interact with another adult in that teacher-pupil way, if even just for a few minutes. ;) But then, when we went to Ibiza and I had to leave her with the caretakers while we went to yoga class, I was so worried it would be hard for me to say goodbye to her and go off on my own. I had counseled dozens of parents through separation anxiety and saying goodbye, but would I be able to do it myself? 

It turns out, yes! It wasn't completely easy, but I followed my own advice and it worked. ;) Click on "Read more" below to read my tips on saying goodbye at school or daycare for the first time. 

  • Your child will take their cues from you.  If you are confident, your child will be confident. If you are nervous, your child will be nervous. Goodbyes can be made easy through preparation.  Visit your child’s school before the first day to meet the teacher and see the building. Then talk about it later. The familiarity will put you, and in turn your child, at ease when that big first day arrives.  
  • Short and Sweet is best.   Children, especially children under the age of six, need routines.  Practice your goodbye with your child ahead of time. You can make it a sort of game. Say goodbye and then go to the bathroom. Or when your child is staying home with other family members, practice the goodbye and then go out. This will help your child become comfortable with saying goodbye the same way each time you part. On the first day of school there will naturally be a bit of settling in and dropping off of supplies. After all of that is finished, proceed to say your goodbye as practiced and then make your exit right away. 
  • Tears are to be expected.  Because your child is taking their cues from you, saying your goodbye as practiced will give them feelings of safety and security. But if your child happens to be crying, don’t fret. Going to school is a big event and feelings of excitement and novelty can be difficult to express for a young child. Tears are okay. Stick to your routine. Say goodbye as you practiced and make your exit. Trust that your child's teacher will call you if your child hasn't settled down after 15 minutes. (They will. :)
At the end of the day, when you meet your happy child, be sure to tell them all about what you did during your day.  Sharing about your day is one of the best ways to hear about theirs.  Even if at the beginning goodbyes are difficult, it will get easier.  But if you really feel that your child is not settling into school, talk with your child’s teacher sooner rather than later.  You know your child best and through working together with your child’s teacher you will be able to come up with a routine that will work for everyone. 

Have you experienced separation anxiety or difficulty saying goodbye? What helped your child? 

(This article was published previously in Mothering Matters magazine in August 2010.)