When children enter our space for their first days of school, they are invited in in warmth and love. They and their caregivers enter together, are given plenty of time and space to take off their shoes and hang up their coat, and then turn to their teacher to have their hands carefully washed and dried. Their caregivers, if they wish, are invited in to sit for a cup of tea and observe the children in play for a few minutes. Then, off they go, to do the work of adulthood (whatever that looks like to them). And the children stay, to do the work of childhood.
We do everything we can to offer a soothing, gentle threshold to independence, because we understand that this transition--spending time away from one's primary caregiver, often for the first time, can be a big deal. Often time it happens quite seamlessly, with all parties glad to have some time and space dedicated to themselves. Children are happy to see their friends and teachers, and often barely look up when their caregiver says goodbye! But sometimes, for some children, it's a lot less seamless, and a lot more dramatic. This is also very normal, and we're here to help.
Separation can be hard. Sometimes children cry. Sometimes grownups cry. It's all okay.
In case you need more of a plan than "it's all okay," here is what I have seen work.
- Know, in your heart of hearts, that you are bringing your child to the playgroup (or wherever) because you love them and you know it will be good for them. Meditate on it if you need to, figure out what fears you are carrying. Children are remarkably psychic and intuitive, and if you're anxious they likely will be too.
- Before dropping them off, share a simple "preview" of the day with your child. For example: "After breakfast, we're going to bike to Morning Garden (or wherever you're going), and you're going to see your friends and help make some soup! After you sing the goodbye song, I'll be there to pick you up and we'll bike home for some lunch and nap time." The more rhythmic your days, the better they can anticipate and relax into the sequence of events.
- When it's time for you to go, it's time for you to go. I once heard a parent say: "talk like you're relaying a fact of the universe." It's time for you to go, just as sure as if I drop this pen it will fall to the ground. Do not negotiate, do not ask permission, just say goodbye and leave. If this seems harsh, remember this: One of the greatest things you can teach your children is to trust. In order to do this, they need to trust that you will do what you say you are going to do. Promising one thing (I'll come in for a cup of tea, give you a kiss, then head out!) and doing another (okay, I'll have another cup of tea!), while it may placate them in the short term, is confusing and will make trust and separation harder in the long term.
And if you need even more reassurance, please know that almost all the time, within about five minutes, the children are absolutely fine and happily go off to play. Often it happens even faster, before their caregivers even leave the front gate! We're all in this together, so please reach out to your child's teacher if you want to talk, so everyone can be on the same page and support each other.