Say Hello to Healthy Goodbyes: Navigating Separation Anxiety Better

Those first days of school or daycare can be a doozy for young children and parents when it’s time to say goodbye. While separation anxiety is a natural part of development, a parent’s response to it is critical for children to make healthy transitions and begin to trust caregivers and teachers.

Parenting coach Liz Warrick says there are definite no-no’s when it comes to saying goodbye as outlined below.

Bye-Bye Don’ts

1. Don’t sneak away. It’s tempting. But the disappearing act actually creates more fear in your child and does not help your child learn the important ritual of saying goodbye.

2. Don’t ask: “Is it ok for mom to leave now?” Um. Bet I can guess the response, and there really is only one answer.

3. Don’t bribe your child with a treat. Bribing sets a bad precedent for both of you as you will be forced to always amp up the bribe to get the behavior you desire.

4. Don’t linger. It’s tempting. But just scram.

Healthy Goodbye Rituals

Author of 151 Ways to Help Your Child Have a Great Day at School (2009) and parenting expert Robin McClure suggests creating a parting ritual. “Maybe it is a special hug or handshake, a kiss and a twirl, or a set verbal exchange between you (such as “I love you best because…”).” Get creative so these formerly tough moments make way for fun memories.

A Jedi Goodbye. Social worker and blogger Dana Aderhold came up with a clever customized ritual. “When my son was four he started a new preschool where he didn’t know any of the other students. We created the ‘Jedi Goodbye;’ when my husband or I dropped him off at preschool we would do a secret light saber signal that was our goodbye ritual. It meant that ‘the force was with him’ until we picked him up. He found this very reassuring.”

Consistent Goodbyes. Mom, daycare owner, and blogger Nicole Dash says “It is a good idea to say goodbye in the same way each day. If you help your child hang up his/her coat and then give a kiss and hug before turning and leaving with a wave, then do not break that routine by one day sitting and playing.” Also, Dash says consistent means it is important you not try to shortcut the goodbye because you are running late.

Low Stress Goodbyes.Parents should keep their emotions in check and fake it if necessary. Dash says it’s not a coincidence when your child chooses to melt down and cling to you on a day you are running late to a meeting. “Never tell your child you are running late, or show signs of stress. This will place undue stress on your child and will make the morning miserable for everyone.”

Less Guilt-riddled Goodbyes.  There will be days your child will cry due to fatigue, a cold, etc. Dash says, “Whatever the reason, these sad goodbyes do not usually last longer than it takes you to get back into your car. It does not mean they hate you for leaving them in daycare.”

Smiley Goodbyes.Warrick says on the big day, keep smiling and stay positive. “Remind your child of all the ‘new and exciting things’ they will do. If you are confident about your child’s new environment, your child will be positive to.”

Courageous Goodbyes. Dr. Laura Markham has this advice when it is you shedding the tears: “Have faith in your child, and in nature. Nature designed kids to hang onto their parents for protection, but to start exploring once they feel safe. Worrying about leaving your child at school is a way of saying you don’t believe he can cope…have faith in your child’s inner strength to rise to the occasion and grow.”


Michele Ranard has a husband, two sons, and a master’s in counseling. She blogs at and

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