Saying Goodbye to Children: When they leave your program/classroom

Saying goodbye to children in those early mornings for parents can be quite a challenge, but saying goodbye to a child in your program or class for good can be a very upsetting task for many teachers. When I was asked to comment on this subject I actually did not feel compelled to respond. Saying goodbye to a child is such a private, individualized experience, I felt I couldn’t possibly tell someone else how to do it. But then after thinking of all the times I’ve said goodbye to children, I realized there are things that not only make it easier for me but many things you can do to make sure its a positive, easy transition for all involved, the child, the parents and the teachers.

Here are a few tips: 

Tip #1: Make sure the child is prepped weeks in advance for the goodbye transition. The parents should start this dialogue with child, explaining to them in simple terms why they will be leaving (i.e. “you are three now so it’s time to move up to the three year old classroom”). Tell them when they will be leaving (“in a few days you will be saying goodbye to your old friends and starting your new school and meeting new friends”). Parents should always be using positive language when talking about the new class or program. Hopefully the parents will have visited the new program or class with the child prior to beginning. After the parent has talked to their child about the transition, the teachers should be talking about it in the current class or program as well. Talk about the the transition should always be upbeat and positive and teachers should allow the child to express how they are feeling about the transition as well. 

Tip #2: To keep the child as engaged in the transition process as possible, the day the child transitions (or the day before) they leave your care, have the child collect their own belongings in a bag. If they have a cubby, have the child empty it with the teacher. The teacher should be talking about why they are cleaning out the cubby and explaining where the child will bring their things next (“you’ll need these things at your new school, so let’s clean your cubby out and make sure to take them home with you today”). This process will help the child better understand the impending transition and help them to feel more in control about the situation. I will also ask the child if they would like to find their art on the walls and take them home with them or to their new school. 

Tip #3: Always have a prepared gift for a transitioning or leaving child. I find a lovely way to send a child off is with a homemade photo book about their time in your care. It only needs to contain maybe ten pictures of their time playing, maybe a few of their own pieces of art or goodbye letters or art from friends. I usually either laminate the “goodbye book” or use clear contact paper to make sure it lasts longer with little hands. Then I present the book to the child on their last day, usually during our last group time of the day. The other children always find this exciting to see too and I find it always makes the child feel special and is sometimes a nice thing for the child to bring to the next class or program as a support item. I like to sing a simple goodbye song to the child with the rest of the group so that everyone has an understanding of what is happening. 
I also like to write a little letter or note to the family, thanking them for sharing their child with me and telling them a few fond memories I will keep of their child. I knew a teacher who would write a letter specifically to the child so that they could have a keepsake of their days in her care when they were older. Either way, I think letters can be a wonderful way to send a family off and it demonstrates to the family how special you really thought their child was. 

It’s gotten a little easier for me over the years to say goodbye to children and their families. I try to keep in contact with as many children as I can by either email or letter. I think it’s important to stay a part of the child’s life for as long as you can. You were once a very important person in that child’s life and that contact helps solidify that relationship. But, there are some children who do come and go and your place in their lives is but just a small amount of time. It’s still important to help them through these transitions and hopefully these tips will help make it just a bit easier for all involved.

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Summer Langille, M.A, Early Childhood Education Specializing 0-8 Years

Summer has been working with children for almost 15 years. The oldest of four she’s always seen herself as a caregiver. She started off caring for children as a nanny for many years. She received her undergraduate degree in Liberal Studies from San Francisco State University and has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education specializing in birth to age eight from Long Beach State. She’s worked with infants all the way up to elementary aged children in center-based care, private school care, home-based care, back-up care and afterschool care. She was a lead teacher for an infant program and more recently a two year old/preschool program. She even had a brief stint as a brownie girl scout troop leader. She’s passionate about quality care for children and thinks the environment plays a large role in how a child learns effectively. She loves art, blocks, music, fairy gardens and picture books and wants all caregivers of children to know how important their job is to the children they care for. Summer is currently home with her baby, navigating this new role as Mama. She blogs about her family at www.summerplayshouse.com.