The One Phrase Not to Say to a Kid Dealing with Separation Anxiety

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Whether it’s back-to-school or just your everyday daycare drop-off, saying goodbye can be a daunting process—for child and parent. But before the stress starts to mount, it’s helpful to think about a strategy to make the transition as painless as possible…even if tears are involved. We consulted Jennie Monness, an early childhood educator, co-founder of Union Square Play and one of the experts available to connect with moms via the new online community Parenting+, about the one thing not to say.

Don’t: “Don’t cry” or “Give me a smile.” Goodbyes can cause discomfort for kids—that’s just how it goes. As parents, the number one thing we shouldn’t do is convince them out of their feelings. “When we add on, ‘Don’t cry,’ or ‘You’re OK,’ not only is our child feeling sad, but now they feel as though they are alone in their feelings and as if there’s something wrong with them to feel these emotions,” Monness says. Even worse, if you say something like, ‘Don’t be sad. It’s OK, you’re going to have so much fun!’ or ‘Come on, give me a smile,’ then linger until you get that smile, it’s not at all supportive for children who are experiencing separation anxiety.”

Do: Validate their feelings. What’s most important is that you validate the feelings that your child is experiencing. If they’re upset, say: ‘I see you’re sad. It’s so hard to say goodbye. I’m going to miss you, too. I know you’ll be safe here. I’m going to say goodbye now. I always come back. I love you.’ This way, your child doesn’t feel alone in their feelings. They feel seen. Also important—that your kid see their parent or caregiver leave confidently, which helps bolster their sense of security in your absence.

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Rachel Bowie

Royal family expert, a cappella alum, mom

Rachel Bowie is Senior Director of Special Projects & Royals at PureWow, where she covers parenting, fashion, wellness and money in addition to overseeing initiatives within...
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