The other day, my son came home from school and barely looked at me while he threw his school bag in the corner and left with his friends for the playground. “Bye mom, I will be home at 6.30 p.m. for supper,” he yelled. And off he went. This made me think of a time when we used to cuddle all the time when he didn’t want to leave me when he stuck to me like glue.
Nowadays, he gives me a quick hug before heading to school, no drama, but when he was younger, for the first couple weeks of each school year, he would beg, sob, and cling to me until I literally peeled his fingers off my body. And, every fall, I see a handful of other kids doing the same thing. Even if they love school, that morning drop-off can be brutal. Nothing is sadder than your child desperately reaching for you while you walk away with a smile plastered on your face, like, “Bye! I am definitely not dying inside! My heart rate is totally normal don’t worry about it!”
Through the years, my son will be nine years old next week, I tried different strategies – listing all the fun school activities, sending him with his friend’s mom instead of me, making the goodbye super quick and upbeat, reading The Kissing Hand — but none made a huge difference. Until…
One morning, as we approached his Kindergarten, three-year-old Joel teared up. But instead of giving him a pep talk about the day, I decided to focus on our reunion afterward. “Joel, will you read a stack of books with me tonight?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said, sniffing.
“Are you sure?” I said. “I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to cuddle and read with you. Do you promise you will read with me???”
“Yes!” he laughed. “I promise!”
And, amazingly, he climbed out of his stroller, patted me goodbye, and waddled into Kindergarten.
I couldn’t believe how well it worked, but it also made sense to me. By asking your kid to promise to hang out with you, you position yourself as completely reliable — you will definitely be there! Also, you’re giving them the power — since YOU are asking THEM — so instead of feeling out of control, they’ve become decision-makers. That inherently feels safe. Talking about the evening also reassures them that 1) school will end, 2) you will reunite, and 3) you will once again be happy together.
Joel: “I don’t want to go to school, I want to stay with you.”
Me: “Well, you do have to go, but do you promise me you will play blocks with me afterward?”
Me: “Do you promise? Please please please?”
Joel, laughing: “Yes! I will, Mommy!”
Thoughts? Have you done this before? Anything else that helps with separations? Parenting is all such trial and error!