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.

Preparing your child (and yourself) for preschool


September is approaching and your child’s first day of preschool is only a few weeks away. If your child has never been away from you and from home for several hours at a time on a consistent basis, you may worry about her adaptation to the big change about to occur. Will she like it? Will he be OK without me? Will he make friends? Will she follow the teacher’s instructions and behave appropriately? Will the teachers pay enough attention to her? Will he feel abandoned? Did I choose the right school? And you can keep going with questions of your own.

The first big task of a new preschooler is mastering separation (see our article on Separation under Common Parenting Concerns). And, in parallel process, it is also the biggest task for the preschooler’s parents. Everyone can feel a little worried as they are facing this big milestone. Separation is an ongoing process that manifests differently at different stages of development and in different contexts. There is a huge range in the way that individual children and parents experience separation.   The good news, however, is that most kids do adjust well to preschool and feel happy there, even those who have a harder time in the beginning.

Toward the end of September we will post thoughts and tips to help if your child is struggling with separating during the early weeks of preschool. In the meantime, you may find some ideas and practical advice for getting your child ready for the transition to the world of “big kids” in the following article published by Zero to Three”. As you think about how to help your child, you will also be preparing yourself to entrust your child to the care of a new set of adults and a whole new community.

Bear in mind that preschoolers have a limited sense of time and sequencing and therefore it is wise to not start talking about school too early. This article suggests two weeks prior, but for some children one week is enough. Do not overwhelm your child with too much information all at once, but rather present it gradually in manageable units.

Please note that tips present practical advice that parents can try, but they are not a prescription for the “right way” to prepare your child. Only implement the tips that you feel will help you and your child. If you try something that feels uncomfortable, drop it. And allow yourself to adapt, improvise, and elaborate on these tips in your own personal way.

If you think that you and your child need or could benefit from individualized help in preparing for school, please call us at 646-864-4270 or email us at

Why it is important to say goodbye each time you leave your child

kissing baby goodbye

There are many reasons why parents leave their baby or toddler in the care of another adult.  Some families have daily goodbyes when the grown-ups go to work while others have time away from their young child less frequently. Babies and toddlers can have many different reactions to being left in the care of someone other than Mommy or Daddy.  Some are perfectly fine as their parent walks out the door or are even excited about the time they will have with the babysitter.  Others may pout or whimper at the goodbyes, while many children become very upset and resist the separation by physically clinging on to the parent and crying. Even more puzzling to parents is the very common situation in which their child suddenly cries and clings desperately when Mom or Dad leaves him with the very same babysitter whom he greeted happily for months before. Going in and out of a “Mommy phase” or a “Daddy phase” is also typical for many children.

Like their children, parents may have a range of different feelings about leaving their baby or toddler, including relief and excitement for having time to oneself or with one’s partner, guilt about having to leave for work or go on a trip, worry about leaving the baby/toddler in someone else care, and dread about the difficult goodbyes and tears as the child is left behind.

Mastering separation is one of the most important developmental tasks of the first three years of your child’s life and every child goes through various normal phases during the process. We often first experience struggles with this during toddlerhood, but learning to cope with separation starts during the first months of life, even when you leave the room your child is in for a few moments.

Parents can establish routines that help pave the way towards healthy separations.  These routines will allow your child to develop trust that “Mommy and Daddy go away and they always come back”.

Here are tips when leaving your child in the care of someone else:

Enlist the care of a trusted caregiver, friend or family member who is familiar to your baby/toddler.  Spend time together with your child and this person so that they can develop a relationship before you leave.

  • Prepare your child for the goodbye, but not too far in advance “Grandma is coming after you finish your snack and Mommy and Daddy are going to go bye-bye”.
  • Talk to your child about what she will be doing in your absence. “Aunt Sara is going to give your bath, get you in your pajamas, read you Curious George and Goodnight Moon and put you to sleep after Mommy and Daddy leave.  We will be here when you wake up in the morning.
  • Always say goodbye and let your child see you leave.  Some parents are tempted to sneak out to avoid the hysterics of a difficult goodbye, but this is not helpful. It can cause a child to worry that his parents can disappear at any moment, making it difficult to trust the idea that “Mommy and Daddy go away and they always come back”.
  • Establish goodbye rituals.  “Remember, Maggie is coming after breakfast.  You and I can sing Wheels On The Bus and Twinkle Twinkle and then Maggie will bring you to the door to say goodbye.”  Older toddlers may like to choose between a few routines, (2 or 3 choices are plenty).  This allows them to feel some control over and take a more active role in the goodbye. Some children like to push their parents out the door themselves, turning a passive experience into an active one again.
  • Make goodbye routines short.  Drawn out goodbyes can lead to increased worry or upset for your baby/toddler.  This often means prying your child from your goodbye hug and leaving them crying in the arms of the caregiver.  For some children, the crying becomes a helpful part of the ritual and is not an indication that the goodbye is too difficult.  Tolerating the crying and leaving with the confidence that she will be fine helps your child to trust this too, and minimizes the crying in the future.
  • Play “goodbye games” with your toddler.  The first of these games, starting at about 5 months, is Peek-a-boo. Playing lots of Peek-a-boo, which most children love and want to play over and over again, helps your child master the experience of seeing you disappear and re-appear in a playful and enjoyable manner. Starting at around 2, you can pretend that they are leaving you and you are feeling upset about their going.  Many toddlers initiate this game themselves. They carry a pretend briefcase or pocketbook and pretend to leave for work or date night.  This allows them to turn their passive role in most goodbyes into an active role and they are thrilled when the parent has a huge reaction to the goodbye.  So pretend to cry and carry on as they leave and joyfully greet them as they return “from work” or their “Big night out”!

The above tips are general ideas about how to help you and your child with separations and can be used for saying goodbye from home, school or daycare.  Some children struggle more than most with separations and parents may need more support and guidance to find an individualized approach to helping their child master goodbyes.  UWS Parenting Support works with families to support healthy separations and goodbyes.