Thoughts & Reflections
It can be heartbreaking, walking away from a tearful child. What’s wrong? Don’t they like school? This can quickly unravel into, is something wrong? Did I make a bad choice? Are they not ready? Parental guilt is real and it is strong. Cognitively we know, this is a good place, my child is happy and learning here, nothing is wrong. But emotions can be bigger than cognition. Worry eeks in on the edges and niggles at the back of our minds. It starts to feel like ignoring this isn’t “trusting my gut,” and our “gut” serves us well in meeting the needs of young children.
Why is saying goodbye hard? How can it be that one day is easy, and the next is heart-wrenching? If they like school so much, shouldn’t this be easy? If they’ve been going to school so long, shouldn’t it be routine by now?
I live far away from my family. When I go visit my mom every Winter Break, I feel like a four-year-old running out of the classroom, delighted beyond belief that I get to see my mom. I love the life I’m coming home to, and yet there’s not been one trip that I’ve walked away dry-eyed. It’s really hard to say goodbye to those you love.
You will always be your child’s favorite person. Especially now, you’re their whole world! A child might be asked, what do you want to be when you grow up? The answer a young child gives is full of hope and wonder, it’s the biggest, greatest thing they can think of. We’ve heard, on more than one occasion, “A daddy,” or “Mommy.”
When things go wrong, they want you. When things go right, they want you. Imaginative play involves making a cake for Mommy, a picture might be painted for Daddy.
Saying goodbye in the morning can feel as dramatic for a young child as it does for us as adults at the airport, having to actively walk away from a loved one, when one more hug probably won’t actually make it better. We have the ability to give ourselves consolation prizes. A treat, remembering who we’re walking toward, not just who we’re walking away from. A child doesn’t have this ability yet. All they’re experiencing is they pain.
“You will always be your child’s favorite person.”
I have a bit of a temper tantrum when my family is hanging out without me. We all have different schedules, and sometimes the stars align and my sister and my mom are able to get together and I’m not. Or, perish the thought, my extended family has fun without me. I’m prone to making arbitrary, selfish rules, like, everyone pick a corner and no talking, definitely no ice cream without me. They know I’m kidding… but only sort of.
Now, imagine a child leaving a parent, and perhaps a younger sibling at home. We know what’s really going to happen. Laundry, vacuuming, errands, chores, working from home, but what it feels like is a party going on without you. You’re asking me to walk away from my favorite people who are all hanging out together? That’s ridiculous. That temper tantrum I feel on the inside, is manifest in a four-year-old not wanting to walk in the door. Everyone is having treats and watching movies and playing without me!
Sometimes this is compounded when there’s been a recent trip or vacation. When we don’t go to school, we have adventures! We go on a trip, or we do something wild and crazy like going out to breakfast, or a parent takes the day off work, or special people visit, and sometimes there’s even presents! So, of course, this is ALWAYS what happens when you don’t go to school. At least in the imagination of a three-year-old.
No matter how much you love your life, your job, your people, there are days we’d rather just stay in bed. Some of us aren’t morning people, so maybe until 10am that’s every day. We’d like to cancel the day, wear something cozy, hang out, whatever an off day looks like. As adults, we have a bit of agency here — we actually can play hookey, and remember that this is a once-a-year type situation, calling in “Sick… of-being-an-adult” or, again, we can have consolation prizes. A latte, a conversation with a friend, a yoga class. Children don’t have this. Wake up a bit tired? I’m not quite in touch with my feelings enough to express this, and I don’t have the words yet. The gloomy weather is making me feel gloomy inside? No words here. Coming down with something or just feeling a bit “off?” You’re growing all the time, and a small human in a big world, so you’re used to feeling uncomfortable — how do I say, “I have a bit of a scratchy throat.” when I’m 15 months old? Tears.
Most of the time, nothing’s “wrong.” School is still a good place, the adults and children here love your child and she loves them back, everything settles right in after a parent leaves. There are a million reasons there might be tears saying goodbye, from feeling unwell or tired, to missing your favorite people, to forgetting the routine, to testing if I can finagle my way into a day off with Mom, and so many more. Worry only exacerbates, since children sense this energy and it can make them anxious, too. Worry, however, is an emotion, not a thought, and it’s tough to simply let it go.
If you’re concerned, ask your child’s educator if they see anything differently. See if you can observe while he’s in class. Can you wait a minute out of sight until she’s in the classroom, and listen to hear if the tears immediately settle?
So much of the time, once we realize, my child really is okay, our worries settle down, and once we’re not worried, a child settles down as well. Anxiety stokes the fire, and we need some solid facts to tell that anxiety to hush. This is perfectly normal. Nothing’s wrong. We all feel like not saying goodbye sometimes. The temper tantrum we hold inside, is simply the temper tantrum a child is expressing. It’s okay.
Written by:Charlotte Wood