University of Illinois Extension
Skipnavigation Nibbles ... Ideas for Families

Kids & Food
Help Your Child Succeed
Your Child's Health
Challenges of Parenting
Learning to Get Along
Playtime Is Fun Time
The Day Care Routine

Saying Goodbye: Daily Separating from a Child

Yesterday was a relaxed morning with everyone waking easily. You felt the family harmony as you playfully dressed your young child, chatting about the fun he would have at day care. You sang silly songs in the car on the way and hugged and kissed at day care as you said goodbye. Your child sighed as you left and then rejoined his friends.

Today however, the whole family is tired and tempers are short. Your child fussed about her clothes, spilled breakfast and a yelling match began. In the car you drive fast, change lanes frequently, and are focused on running late. The good-bye is rushed and mechanical and your child starts crying, kicking, and whining. You feel guilty and embarrassed. What can you do?

Separation begins long before the actual event and its effects linger throughout the day. Young children fear being separated from their parents, especially when things have not gone smoothly beforehand. This fear and stormy behavior is normal. Saying goodbye becomes easier as your child learns to feel more secure, trusts you will always come back, and understands he has not done something to cause your leaving.

Making Goodbyes Easier

  • Make up after a morning conflict. It can reassure your child that daily conflicts will not affect the enduring love between you.
  • Calmly acknowledge your feelings about separation. It can help your child learn to cope with his, "I will miss you all day and think about you," or "I can't wait to see you after work." These messages tell him how important he is to you even when you are not together.
  • Let your child know what to expect. Explain what will happen while you are gone: "You're going to day care to play and have a snack."
  • Let your child know when you are coming back. Use a time frame she will understand, such as after a routine activity: "I'll be back when your nap is over."
  • Let your child take a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Something familiar can help ease unsure feelings.
  • Tell your child you are leaving-don't just disappear. This will help your child feel more secure and make goodbyes easier over time.
  • Keep your goodbyes short. Give your child a quick hug and kiss, then leave. Long goodbyes can make things more difficult.
  • Follow a routine. Say goodbye in the same way each time. This will help him know what to expect and feel more secure.
  • Call if your plans change to keep your child from worrying or being afraid you won't return.

When A Separation Is Most Difficult for Your Child

  • It is prolonged (overnight or longer).
  • It occurs abruptly, so that the child is not prepared for it.
  • He is left in unfamiliar surroundings, with unfamiliar caretakers.

Check your local library or bookstore for these books to read together:

  • Anna Marie's Blanket by Joanne Barkan
  • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
  • First Day at Day Care by Ellen Weiss
  • Will You Come Back for Me? by Ann Thompert

As you stay calm and confident, you are a role model and support for your child, while she learns to say goodbye. Remember to return with a big smile.