There comes a time in the life of every toddler when it's time to leave the nest and explore the world outside of home. For many parents, this separation can be far more traumatic than it is for the child. But your visions of a crying child, holding onto your leg with the death grip, don’t have to come to fruition. Parents can do a lot to help make the transition smoother for both parent and child.
A few simple do’s and don’ts can ease the pain of leaving your little one at school or with a babysitter for the first time. “When leaving your child at school, walk them in with a smile, give them one hug, one kiss, tell them you will be back in two hours, walk away confidently and exit to the door,” says Diana Vavrik, preschool teacher and mother of 5. “If you are secure, they will feel secure in knowing that you will be back as promised and are leaving them in a safe, loving environment.”
Try just a few of the suggestions below to help make your separation go more smoothly.
DO prepare your child for separation
If possible, visit the classroom prior to the first day of school or have the babysitter stop in for a brief visit. While you are there, explain that she is going to stay school or play with the babysitter while Mommy goes and gets some work done. Be positive and excited about all the fun things to play with and do in the classroom and how much you like the school or sitter.
Get the teacher or babysitter’s name and introduce your child. Remind your child that she is going to go and play in Miss Jan’s Class or Emily is coming over to babysit for a couple days prior to your first day apart.
DON’T make it personal
Although this will make you feel like a great parent, resist the urge to make it an emotional separation by asking if she will miss you. She WILL miss you.
Don’t be offended if she says she loves school or her teacher or babysitter. That is a good thing and means you have made a great choice!
DO tell her you are leaving
Many parents are tempted to sneak out when their child isn’t looking. This will break her sense of trust and make her always worry that you could sneak away at any moment.
Make a routine of goodbyes, perhaps two hugs and two kisses for a two year old (luckily, they will outgrow this before their 12th birthday!), don’t let her rope you in to several rounds of goodbyes.
DON’T let her see you sweat
Even if you feel like you need to cry, save it for after you get out the door. If you look worried or concerned, she will be too. Smile and leave quickly and confidently, assuring her you will return shortly.
DO plan something fun to do
Although it may not seem like it on the first day, you will begin to enjoy having some time to yourself.
Plan something fun you can look forward to on the first day (coffee with a friend, reading a great novel or doing a little window shopping at the mall).
DON’T feel guilty
Separation is a good thing, for both you and your child. If you don’t get her used to the idea before she goes to elementary school, kindergarten is bound to be much more traumatic.
Call the school or sitter after 30 minutes or so if you left her in tears. Chances are good that she will become engaged in a fun activity and stop crying within a few minutes.
DO read a few good books about separation
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (Tanglewood Press, 2006)
- Will I Have a Friend? by Miriam Cohen (Start Bright Books, 2009)
- I Love You all Day Long by Francesca Rusackas (Harper Collins, 2004)
- Oh My Baby, Little One by Kathi Applet (Sandpiper, 2006)
- Will You Come Back for Me? By Ann Tompert (Albert Whitman and Co., 1998)
After spending so much time together, separating from your child is bound to be a bit difficult for both you and your child. Be positive and upbeat and you will find it to be easier than you could have thought. You are both sure to treasure your special time together even more after having a little time apart!