Drop off is a form of separation. Both parents and children can find separation difficult and scary. If you are preparing for a big goodbye at a new daycare setting, summer camp, or school, understand that children need to feel reassured and know what to expect before the moment arrives.

How to prepare your child for a good goodbye

  1. Visit or familiarize. Visit the camp or daycare with your child in advance of the first goodbye. Even a quick walk by can be helpful. Talk with your child about how you will bring them and pick them up. If you are not the one who will be doing pickup and dropoff, explain to them who will and what they can expect.
  2. Practice object permanence. Object permanence is the idea that even though you can’t see someone or something, it still exists. With young children and toddlers, games of hide and seek and peek-a-boo are helpful in the run up days to separation. They help the child begin to understand, or deepen their understanding, that even though they can’t see you, that you do not cease to exist, and that you will return. 
  3. Lean on books. There are a lot of great early childhood books that support separation like The Kissing Hand, Owl Babies, and The Invisible String. Reading these books together with your toddler or young child can help them see that separation is normal and something that everyone goes through.
  4. Establish solid routines. Children thrive on routines and schedules because they derive comfort from knowing what is coming next. A few days, or even a couple of weeks, before the big goodbye, get their routines solid. Children need both a strong bedtime routine as well as a morning routine in order to be ready to take on the scary parts of their day, like drop off.
  5. Get them excited. Hype up the camp, daycare, or school that they are starting. Your child feeds off your energy and will get excited about something that excites you. Tell them all about what they will do and learn so that they are excited when the time comes, rather than anxious.
  6. Listen to their worries. If your child is feeling anxious, that is normal. Talk to them about what they are worried about and really listen. Reassure them that you will return and focus on the goodbye plan and pick up plan so they feel prepared. Your child will feel validated if you’ve listened to them and more ready to take on these challenges when they come up.

Tips to help make those goodbyes a bit less scary

  1. Make a goodbye plan with your child. For example, “Today is the first day so I’ll spend some time to help you get settled and make sure you know who your counselor/teacher is. After today/this week, I’ll bring you to the drop off field each morning, give you a big hug, and say goodbye. Then I’m going to go to work and Gran will pick you up after a day of fun.”). 
  2. Make a goodbye plan with their teacher/counselor. If you anticipate a difficult goodbye on the first day or during the first week, discuss this with the teacher/counselor in advance and come up with a plan with them as well. Maybe your child can have a special class job that they do with their teacher/counselor at the beginning of the day to help them feel some sense of purpose and control over the start of their day.
  3. Don’t linger, but also don’t sneak away. It’s a fine line, but you can walk it. When you are saying goodbye to your child, give them a hug and kiss and remind them of the pickup plan. Then, just leave! Don’t ask, “Can I go now?” Just go once you’ve followed through with the agreed upon plan. Make sure your child knows you are going. Do not sneak away. It can be very hard for children when they turn around after putting their backpack in their cubby and you are gone without a word.
  4. Drop off with a friend. If your child has a friend that is going to the same camp or daycare, you can plan your drop off time with their parent or caregiver so your child isn’t going in alone. This can help your child feel more comfortable entering a new space and it will take their mind off separating from you.
  5. Be calm. Your child will read your emotions. If you are a mess, they will be a mess, too. Separation is difficult, but put your trust in the counselors and teachers so that your child can, too. It will be worth it for everyone!

School and daycare teachers likely have more training and experience in supporting difficult separations as well as speaking to you about them than camp counselors, generally speaking. Not to say camp counselors don’t know how to manage separations but if you are concerned that your child’s camp counselor seems young, new, or ill equipped to field the big goodbye that you know is coming down the pike, speak with the camp director in advance to come up with a plan. 

Lastly, keep in mind that your tone and your own overall confidence in the camp or program will be read by your child and will impact how they feel about saying goodbye. Get yourself right with separating before beginning to discuss it with your child so that your reassurance is genuine. You got this!

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