Summer Goodbyes

Summer is a great time to focus on being together as a family. There are long hours of unstructured time, sometimes there are vacations and always there are activities galore. This together time is also a great time to start to focus on ways to build “goodbye” into the routine when the new school year begins.

We often shift into the school year in autumn with a whoosh of relief (yes relief!!) for the chance to move back to a little structure and to provide an opportunity for our children to have their own experiences again.  As parents, though, we tend to forget that this is a major transition to a young child.  He was pretty content spending long hours with us, and has forgotten—or has not yet ever had the experience—of having to say goodbye to mom or dad in order to get involved in preschool or kindergarten or a child care center.

The staff at the Hopkins School District Stepping Stones program discussed the benefits of early preparation with your child concerning goodbye. We thought we would share some ideas and activities and strategies for helping your child get used to the idea of saying goodbye—and helping him build the trust that you will always return-during the summer.  Doing some prep work in the comfortable cozy season of summer can help your child develop confidence when faced with the prospect of saying goodbye on that first day of school in autumn.

When there are opportunities to say goodbye to your child during this summer—even if it is just going out for the evening and leaving your child with a babysitter, begin a simple routine around saying goodbye.  This may include a hug, a brief statement reassuring him that you will come back (children have a need to hear you say this—we know it is true, but children don’t always believe it easily) and a wave at the door.  Then exit with confidence. This simple routine can help them begin to feel comfortable with the idea of separating from you, and gives them some actions to help them transition into the goodbye.

A goodbye routine can be silly or serious; create a routine that fits your personality, but be intentional about what you do. Some parents have a silly song to say goodbye, some parents blow three kisses to their child, others have a hug and kiss. As long as you build a consistent and short routine, what you do doesn’t matter. Using the routine every time you say goodbye is what your child needs.  As this routine becomes habit throughout the summer, it will become a natural way to say goodbye during your child’s first separation at school or child care. Even though the surroundings will be new, the actions you take with your child will be familiar and comfortable, and that will help your child feel settled and confident.

Your child will likely show you that he is unhappy with the separation when you say goodbye. However, it is much harder on your child and the caretaker if you slip away without saying anything to your child to avoid facing the anger or tears. This leaves your child panicked when they turn around in their play and realize you have disappeared. Allowing your child to show their emotions around having to say goodbye is a valuable gift to him. Show your child that you are confident in his ability to handle the separation. In addition, show your child you are confident in the abilities of the caretaker you are leaving him with. Use the routine to ground yourself in saying goodbye, and then exit the room.

Often, our heart breaks when we hear the tears that follow our departure; trust that the care provider is able to handle the sadness and allow them to do so. When we leave our children with caretakers in the summer it is often with family and friends whom we already trust completely. The practice that we have in trusting others will serve us well as parents when we need to transfer that trust to the caretakers during the school year. Allow yourself to believe in the ability of the teachers to handle your child’s sadness in the same way your other trusted adults do so. (Teachers of young children have seen sadness at separation many times, and have found very effective ways of handling and comforting the child).

When summer begins to fade, and the school year gets closer, be sure to talk with your child about what they can expect now that they will shortly be going to kindergarten / preschool / child care. Talk openly and honestly about the goodbye that they will say in the morning, and about your return at the end of the program day. Remind them of the successes they have had in the summer when they have said goodbye to you and have had a great time during the separation.  Reading books about saying goodbye can help to begin the conversation with your child about what it will be like to have a first day of “school”. One book on this topic that staff has come to greatly appreciate is The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn.

Remember that summer is the season that is “in the moment”. Enjoy the many moments of togetherness that arise. When you find an opportunity to help your child experience a goodbye, help them feel successful in that moment with an eye toward the future school year.