Preschoolers form strong relationships with their teachers, and saying good-bye to someone who is very important is a meaningful moment in a child’s life. You can help your children by discussing how to say goodbye, and by helping them say goodbye to their teachers in a satisfactory way.
Life is filled with leave-takings that come in many forms. Some are temporary, such as leaving a mother or father to go to school or ending a visit with grandmother. Others are more permanent, such as losing a treasured toy or the death of a pet. Because life is filled with goodbyes, children must develop mental muscles to cope with them in an emotionally healthy manner.
Goodbyes bring up a variety of feelings, depending on the meaning of the particular loss to the child. Often, children are not just sad in such situations. Sometimes they are also angry or anxious — all natural reactions to having to say goodbye.
Teachers play special roles for children. They provide substitute parenting, and for a younger class, this is also a time of transition. Teachers at this stage are becoming more like teachers and less like substitute parents. Children are expected to mostly manage their needs, tasks and relationships.
Most people worry about the unknown and whether they will be up to the next challenge. In the case of a young child, parents can ask them whether they wonder how things will be in kindergarten. Reassure them the next teacher will also help them, remind them of their growth during the current year and that they will continue to grow. Introduce them physically to their next surroundings (perhaps during the final weeks of the school year) to provide confidence that this loss is fully manageable.
Recognize, too, that people are not interchangeable. No one will ever be Mrs. Smith, for example, who was there for little Daniel at particular times, in particular ways, and with whom he shared special times. No one will ever smile quite like her. And although Daniel may be able to return to visit, the ongoing, working relationship is gone forever.
This is sad, and it is natural for any child to be a bit angry about the inevitabilities of life that they wish were not so. Therefore, as you accentuate the positive — your child’s capabilities, growth, the fine teacher awaiting him or her — it also is important to acknowledge that Mrs. Smith cannot be replaced, the loss hurts, and you are there for him with a hug.
Childhood is about learning not just the ABCs of reading, but also the ABCs of tolerating, bearing and moving beyond difficult emotions. Saying goodbye to a teacher provides an opportunity for children to deal with emotions that are real, meaningful and, unless there are special circumstances, within their capacity to master.
Some children make it clear they will miss their teacher. Others go on as if it is no big deal or even irrelevant. Don’t be fooled if your child acts unfazed. Most often, children who act unconcerned are wary of their feelings and need your help to question their self-protections. Be tactful and gentle – just raise the idea occasionally that your child and their teacher have done so much together, she is such a kind person, and it is hard to say goodbye to someone like that. Your child might well protest, and if they do, just let it be. You have planted a seed, and you can continue to plant such seeds from time to time. Well-planted seeds will germinate — slowly.
Although a few children might express such sentiments in words, children more commonly are able to express their appreciation in a gift. Gifts can be tricky, though. A gift must be meaningful to the child for it to truly help them with this transition. This might mean instead of something you buy in the store, or cookies you (and even your child) bake, the gift might be something they draw, or a treasure or cool bug they find in the backyard. It depends on what is meaningful to them in the context of that particular relationship. Trust their judgment.
Ultimately,telling someone, “Thank you, I will miss you,” is one way children — and adults — can feel better about their mix of feelings when saying goodbye to someone who has done much for them. And it is a decent thing to do.
Try as well to separate your child’s feelings and needs from your own feelings of gratitude and other emotions you may have about saying goodbye. You might decide, for example, to give a meaningful gift of your own. Pay attention to the fullness of your child’s feelings — their worries as well as their confidence and dreams, their sense of loss and new opportunities. Life is filled with transitions, leavings and losses — and new beginnings. By being aware of their feelings, you can help introduce your child to a way of understanding themselves and the world that will stand them in good stead.