Difficult Goodbyes


Martina B. from the Czech Republic is au pair in New York, USA.
Martina B. from the Czech Republic is au pair in New York, USA.
Photo courtesy of InterExchange

It is normal for children to be upset when they are separated from their parents or caretaker. You can minimize the stress on the child by helping them during this upsetting time.  

When a Parent Leaves

If your host parents are leaving the house, encourage them to say goodbye to the child. Sometimes parents prefer to sneak out of the house to avoid upsetting the child, but this will only make the child even more upset when she eventually discovers that her parents are gone, and may also make the child feel insecure and distrustful of adults. It also helps to tell the child when the parents will return home.  

Avoid using uncertain words such as “later” or “a little while.” Children don’t understand these terms - “later” to a four-year-old is fifteen minutes. Instead, use real time: “Mommy will be back at seven o’clock.” Even if the child cannot yet tell time, a definite hour helps them to feel secure. “Later” might never get here, but seven o’clock is going to happen. You can even make this a game or lesson about telling time. Show the child a clock and explain that when the short hand of the clock is on the seven, Mommy will be back. Again, this will help to reassure the child, and she will enjoy checking the clock and telling time like a big girl. If the child seems preoccupied with seeing her parent again, distract her and entertain her with a game.

Leaving a Child at School

Morning drop-off at school can sometimes be upsetting for young children, especially preschoolers. You can help to minimize this trauma by emotionally preparing the child before you go. Be very positive when you talk about school and tell her about all the fun she is going to have. If your preschooler shows signs of distress when you arrive at school, take a few minutes to quietly comfort and reassure her. Remind her of all the fun things school has to offer that day: all the toys, her friends, and many wonderful things to do. It might help to lead her to the toys and initiate some play with her. Explain when you will come to pick her up, and be specific with the time, just like you do when parents leave the house. Let the preschool teacher know that the child is having a difficult day. It is usually best not to stay too long, because the child may cling to you even more. Don’t sneak out - wave goodbye and leave quickly when you see the child is starting to get involved in an activity.

Next: Discipline: Staying Positive »

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