Separation Sadness

Why did I research this?

It was the end of the school term last month and my five year old was having an extra slow morning, moping around instead of getting ready. He walked around aimlessly hugging his lamby (a bit like a teddy, that he sleeps with). He was felling upset about leaving his lamby and leaving me for another whole day at school. Kindergarten was a new thing and leaving his favourite peeps behind was upsetting. It got me thinking about the goodbyes that we say, when my husband and I go out, when my husband goes to work, when I go to work and when my two year old goes to his Lola’s for the day. What else can I say about these sad goodbyes besides “I’ll be back soon”? There must be more to ease the sadness and get us all out the door to our destinations.

What did I find out?

Saying goodbye is just another problem that we can model problem solving to. The more ideas we give, the better our children will become at coming up with their own ideas and solving their own problems. (Cray, 1986). There are many ideas that we can give to our children for them to choose from. For example:

  1. Choose a piece of my jewellery to keep with you all day
  2. Take a photo of me to keep in your bag
  3. Take a photo of lamby to keep in your bag
  4. Take your teddy instead of lamby
  5. Have a cry
  6. Tell your teacher you are feeling sad
  7. Make a surprise for me
  8. Ask for a big hug

The ideas were offered like this:

“You miss me. I know what that feels like. It feels yak. I remember when I first started high school and I missed having my Nanna pick me up. I have some ideas. If you’d like to hear them let me know.”

“The ideas I have are:…                                     .”

“It’s up to you what you decide but let me know if you need more help.”

My children are used to me offering ideas like this now and have usually come up with their decision before I even finish my sentence. The look of empowerment is very pleasing to see and useful when I have a problem and my five year old gives me ideas. Last week he told me I had three options to sort out the caterpillar problem in my vegetable patch. Option one was to get a net, option two was to go out there every morning and inspect and option three was to spray them.  There have been times when my children don’t want a solution and just want to be sad or annoyed.  I tell them that this is OK too but with boundaries, like the promise we have made to his school teacher to get them him there on time or the promise I have made to my friends to be at dinner on time.

Why is this useful?

  • Children learn to think by thinking and not by being told what to do.
  • By modelling problem solving you are helping your child learn how to make good decisions.
  • You now have a script to use when you sense a sad goodbye with your children. One that is thoughtful, empathic and solution focused. Feelings do come and go but it’s also comforting to know that we can help children when they miss somebody by teaching them to problem solve.

~ SM


Crary. E .(1986). Mommy, Don’t Go. Unites States of America: Parenting Press.