"I'll Be Back!"

Hedda SharapanOne of my favorite things to do is to observe in a really good child care center. I love learning by watching top-notch professionals.

Recently I was in a toddler room observing the morning separation and watched a boy who came in with his mother. He had just put his coat and blankey in his cubby, but he seemed hesitant about his mother’s leaving. I was a little taken aback when I heard one of the teachers say with a note of fun in her voice, “Go ahead and push your Mommy out the door!“ With her encouragement, the boy started to giggle as he lovingly pushed his mom out the door.

I wasn't familiar with this strategy to help with "goodbyes," but as I thought about it, I realized it was intentional. By encouraging the boy to play about “pushing Mommy out the door,” the teacher was helping him say, “I’m sending you out.” Instead of mom in charge of leaving (and the boy being left behind), this little game put the boy in control of her leaving. When I talked about it with the assistant director, she told me that’s one of their standard procedures and one way they help with separation all through the center.

Of course not all children were ready for that. In fact, I saw one little boy who was handed over crying into the arms of his primary teacher. But he didn’t cry for long in her loving arms.

That start-of-the-day separation can be a tough time for children…for their parents…and for their teachers. Even children who have been in child care from infancy can go through a clingy time that’s developmentally appropriate as they struggle between wanting to be “big” vs. wanting to be a baby again. Or it could be a sign of normal regression when children are tired, aren’t feeling well or are having a bad day. Add to that parents' stress from the hurried morning routine of getting everyone up and out the door – mixed with a normal measure of ambivalence about leaving their child at child care. No wonder morning separation can be difficult.

As you get to know the children and their families, it’s easier to figure out what kind of separation strategy works for each of them. Here are some ideas that can help:

  • Some families create a ritual like a "high 5" or a chant like “See you later alligator - After a while crocodile.”
  • Some children create their own rituals. I know one little girl who climbs up the steps of the toddler slide in the room each morning, and stands there at the top of the slide waving bye-bye to her mom from that powerful place – up high!
  • Some children find it easier to say goodbye and then turn their back as mom or dad leaves. It seems to be easier for them to manage if they don’t see the parent leaving.

Of course "goodbye" strategies work when there's an underlying foundation of trust. That trust grows out of your ongoing caring communication with both the children and their families -- which in turn contributes to a positive relationship. It's because of that trust that those words "I'll be back" -- no matter how we say it -- come to have real meaning to a child.

P.S. I'd love to know about the "goodbye" rituals you've seen or encouraged. What are some ways you've helped families with the morning separation? Email me at Sharapan@fci.org, and I’ll be glad to share your ideas with our readers.

From Our Readers

Last month’s newsletter focused on helping children with MEDICAL FEARS, and we asked how you encourage playing about medical situations. Here’s what we heard from some of our readers:

We invited a veterinarian to visit our center, and that’s generated a lot more medical play. He even gave us some x-rays, and we set them up on the window so the light shines through them. We added clipboards, too. His visit and those kinds of “real” props got all kinds of play going here with “wounded” and “sick” stuffed animals! B.L.

One of the mothers at our center is a nurse, and she suggested that we don’t give children a real stethoscope to play with because these instruments are very sensitive to sound. If a child is listening through the stethoscope when someone makes a loud noise on it, it could hurt his or her ears. She said it’s better to stick with a toy stethoscope. S.R.

I am pleased to see that you did not include pretend pills in the doctor kit. A generation ago such kits sometimes included candy pills. Nurses I know explained that the candy pills gave the message that all pills could be thought of as candy. I like the spool and yarn stethoscope. Your ideas fit any budget. C.M.

...your newsletter on shots & needles for children was so well timed for us...both our son who just turned six and our daughter (19 months) are heading to the doctor later this week for checkups and shots. Our son is particularly anxious about shots, so my wife and I have been researching coping strategies in the hopes of gradually getting him to a better place with these things...Thanks for the great work! P.W.

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