Helping your child separate and say goodbye at preschool


By mid September, most preschools have started their “phase in process” to help young children and parents transition to the school day schedule and the daily goodbyes that are a necessary part of being a student. Some schools begin the year with shorter sessions and invite the parents to stay for the first few days. Gradually, the day becomes longer and the parents are asked to say goodbye soon after they arrive. This “phase in process” is typically enough for most children to be able to separate from their parent or caregiver. However, some children need a bit more care and support to successfully say goodbye to their grown-up and feel confident enough to engage in and enjoy the classroom activities.   This can be a very normal reaction to starting school and there are several tips that can help your new preschooler transition to school.

  • Have a conversation with the classroom teacher. Share your concerns about your child and ask for feedback about what the teacher sees during the day.
  • Help your child to develop a trusting relationship with one of the teachers in the classroom. This is often easier to achieve with an assistant teacher, because she may have more time to devote to an individual child than the head teacher. Find a teacher that has a style that is comforting and attractive to your child and try to spend time with your child and this teacher. Your child may then be able to use this grown up as a “bridge” between his family and school. A classroom can feel big and hard to navigate for a small child and finding a special grown-up can make it feel more manageable.
  • Establish a short, consistent goodbye routine. This will depend on the rules of the classroom, but if you are allowed to enter the classroom, pick one or two special and quick activities that you can share with your child and then help them find their special grown-up to assist with the goodbye. Discuss the plan with your child before school and remind them of it each day….”Remember Tommy, Mommy is going to take you to school, we are going to draw one picture and read Thomas the Tank Engine and then Mommy is going to say goodbye. Ms. Johnson will be there to help you say goodbye and get ready for playtime”.   Goodbyes are harder when they are prolonged because of the reaction of the child and a quick predictable goodbye routine is very helpful to preschoolers.
  • Limit afterschool activities until your child is fully adjusted to and engaged in school. It takes a tremendous amount of physical and emotional energy for young students to get used to going to nursery school. This is a time filled with new people, activities, routines and rules and the comfort of home will be very important to your little one. A few hours of nursery school is enough daily activity for most children and they will benefit from after school downtime at home and the company of their family and/or caregiver.
  • In some families, goodbyes are easier, meaning less emotional and conflicted, with one adult than another. If this is the case in your family, and if your child’s struggles with separation are not becoming any less intense as the days go by, then it may be worth having the parent or caregiver who is able to hold on to a more neutral, less reactive stance be the one to drop the child off at school for a while. 

Each child has her own way of adjusting to new routines and separating from her parents/caregivers and some children need a longer phase-in period than your school has offered. Many schools and teachers are flexible and will support you and your child if you need more time to transition so don’t be afraid to ask. This and the above suggestions may be all that your child needs to get used to and become happy at school.   UWS Parenting Support offers individualized support and guidance to families and children who need additional assistance with helping their child say goodbye, learn and have fun at school. Please email or call for more information or to schedule an appointment.

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