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Learning to say good-bye

Our featured book this week is 'Owl Babies'
(by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson)
All my kids from babies, to toddlers and preschoolers just love, love, love this story. Even my two big school aged kids still enjoy listening to this story.
The very first time I picked this story up to read to my kids, I thought it was such a plain and simple story. Three baby owls missing their mummy... waiting, waiting, waiting for her to come back. And when she finally comes back, everyone is happy again. That's it. That's essentially the plot. I wondered why the children were so eager to listen to this simple story so many times.

Was it simply the three cute little baby owls in the story?


Then just last week we welcomed another new little baby to the family*. It's been a rocky start, as it usually is with most children getting used to a new environment. All the other children were quick to point out whenever baby was crying and feeling sad.

Why is baby crying? Why is baby sad? 

Because she misses her mummy.

And that's when it hit me.

This is why the kids can relate to the story so well.

We all know what it feels like to miss someone important to us.

Good-byes are always hard.

There more you love someone. The harder it is.

The same holds true for the 9-month old baby as it does for the 90-year old man.

Will there be tears?


Will there be anger?


Sadness? Loss? Confusion?

Yes, yes and yes.

In some ways it can be harder for the 9-month old because they're still trying to figure out how the whole universe works. Stuff like 'Object Permanence'... i.e. that a thing will not cease to exist once it's out of sight. (And 'things' include mummy and daddy--very important things indeed). Learning that most good-byes are not forever - i.e. when mummy and daddy have to leave to go to work, they will come back.

Mind boggling stuff like that is bound to bring on the tears.

Which is not a very pleasant sight to see.

But how else can baby tell you how much their heart is breaking to see the most important thing in their life go away?

I would take it as a compliment, really.

So is there anything we can do then? To ease the pain somewhat?

This is by far the number one FAQ I get from new parents:

How can we make good-byes easier?

Well, the truth is, there is really no easy way to say good-bye.

But there might be a few things we can try.

It doesn't guarantee that baby will immediately start beaming their sunshiny smile as they wave you good-bye in the mornings.

However in the long-run I believe it will definitely strengthen your child's sense of trust, confidence and security in the people and environment around them.

So here are a few tips I offer to new parents to help ease the transition for their little one into care:

#1. Make it short, sweet and clear. Not saying you are not allowed to linger for a bit. Stay around for a short chat and a little play. Then once you decide it's time to go, give your bestest good-bye kiss and cuddle, say bye-bye and go. That is what good-bye means after all. Any variation can sometimes leads to confusion over the term "good-bye".

#2. Don't change your mind. After you say good-bye, don't turn around and decide to hang around for a few more minutes. Unless you decide to use another word for when you really mean good-bye. Consistency is always a big lifesaver in the long term. And I know it's hard. Believe me I know. Especially when your poor baby is crying like he's heart is breaking into a million pieces. But you know this place you decided to put your child in for care is a good place. And there are good, loving people here waiting in the wings to comfort your darling baby. So give them a chance.

#3. Show trust and confidence. Remember you decided to put your trust and confidence in this place and these people. You know they will love your baby. So show your baby that. As you hand over the reigns to this person ready to take your child in their arms, demonstrate that in your body language and your voice and tone. Your baby will soon follow your cue. If mummy believes this is okay, then it is okay.

#5. Reassure your child that you will come back. This is an important learning for baby. Especially when they are going through the developmental stage of understanding object permanence. I sometimes encourage parents to try and start out with a short day to begin with so baby doesn't have to wait long to see mummy or daddy again. Soon it will dawn on them that mummy and daddy did not disappear forever and this absence is just temporary. Mummy and daddy (in the words of the Terminator) "will be back!". 

#6. Loveys and comfort items. Ensure you pack any important cuddly toys, blankies, dummies or whatever important comfort items your child needs in their bag. It just might be the key lifesaver to get everyone through the day with their sanity intact. You should also communicate any favourite foods or activities your child loves to your educator so they can have them ready to help ease the transition process.

Learning to say good-bye is an important rite of passage for every child. Good-byes are inherently hard. But with time and patience, the sadness of saying good-bye to mummy or daddy when starting day care will soon be balanced by the fun and happy times and friends to look forward to!


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