Say goodbye to separation anxiety

One morning last year I noticed how parents were farewelling their children at a school gate. Mostly, I thought they were doing it really nicely. I heard one mum, quite some distance from the school, say – “I’ll give you a hug now, I’ll watch you go up the hill to school, and I’ll give you a wave when you get there.” Wise mum – her boys still needed a warm farewell while giving them a bit of a nudge towards independence.

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When dropping kids off at kindy or day-care or school, some parents think they should just slip away and not upset the child by saying goodbye. But I think it is much better to make warm goodbyes part of your family’s culture. It can sometimes work better to say your goodbyes some time before the actual point of separation.

When you part, stress the reunion that will come, not the separation. Stress the fact that even though you might be out of sight, your care for them is still there. “I’ll pick you up at the normal time.” “Have a lovely day. Auntie will pick you up, look after you, then I will be back for big hugs after I have been to work.” “I’ll want to hear all about your day when you get home.”

This is what psychologist Gordon Neufeld calls ‘bridging’ – your farewell builds a bridge over the time of separation. On that bridge, they feel safe because they can look back to your reassurance, and forward with trust to a happy reunion.

A few other thoughts on separation – Introduce separations gradually. Start with short periods with people they already know and in places they know already, preferably your own home. Provide familiar comfort objects, such as teddy bears, blankets and toys. Make sure their basic needs have been met – they have a full tummy and are not too sick or overtired.

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