Z is seven. Z doesn't like saying goodbye, especially not to me or her dad. As we now live in New Zealand and the school year is just starting, "saying goodbye" comes up constantly in my conversations with parents and teachers.
First day back to school. We are slowly walking to find her teacher, her friends.
"The shoes are uncomfortable" says Z slowing down "and I'm not sure if I like what's in my lunchbox."
We slow down. It's not about the shoes. It's not about the lunchbox.
It's not about the "thing" - though we could spend an insane amount of time right now trying to make sure the shoes fit, the grapes are organised the way she likes them. Something else would come up.
It's not about the "thing".
As we get closer to the door, Z hugs me super tight. "I don't want you to go" she whispers. "Of course you don't" I respond "you'd like me to stay with you all day, all day, all day..." She nods.
It's not about the "thing". It's about connection. It's about staying connected when I am not there to hold her hand, to hug her, to sit by her.
I could spend an insane amount of time trying to provide logical arguments. That she loves her friends (true). That she adores her teacher (also true). That she will probably have so much fun (very likely true as well). And what is also true is that she will miss me. All of these are true.
For a while we were told that we need to help her separate - in fact, we focused on doing the exact opposite. Instead of helping her separate, we focused on helping her feel connected to us throughout the day.
There are many strategies you can come up with to help your child feel connected to you when you are not around. Here are some we have tried and found helpful:
LOVE LETTER: put a little note in their lunchbox, or in their pocket – you can choose to let them know it is there (so they know they can always reach for it), or let it be a surprise. It doesn’t have to be anything big or elaborate – a sticky note with a heart, a smiley face..
INVISIBLE STRINGS: tie invisible strings around your heart and your child’s heart and let them know these cannot be broken – you can play with moving away and coming back together a few times to show them the strings are like elastic bands;
MATCHING “TATTOOS”/BRACELETS: wear matching bracelets of the day, or if you can – draw something on your child’s hand and have them draw the same thing on your hand. We have been drawing hearts on our hands for a while and it seems to have worked really well (though you may choose not to have quite such elaborate artwork on your hand for work);
MATCHING SNACKS: make sure you and your child have a matching snack to eat during the day - this way when they open their lunchbox they will be reminded of you;
SPECIAL ROUTINE FOR HELLO AND GOODBYE: my daughter and I have a special routine to say goodbye that is the same routine we use to say hello after school: we pick five body parts that we touch (eye to eye, cheek to cheek etc.). On the one hand, it brings out some fun and play (pretty funny when we try to make our necks touch each other, I tell you), and on the other it also connects her to that moment in time when we will see each other again;
RECONNECTION REMINDER: instead of focusing on saying goodbye, focus on the next time when you will see each other again. Instead of saying “I will go in 5 minutes… in 4 minutes…” try saying: “at 3 I will come pick you up, and then I will give you a big big hug”. It might seem counterintuitive, and I encourage you to give it a go. See what happens?
“We help a child let go by providing more contact and connection than he himself is seeking. When he asks for a hug, we give him a warmer one than he is giving us. We liberate children not by making them work for our love but by letting them rest in it. We help a child face the separation involved in going to sleep or going to school by satisfying his need for closeness.” (Gordon Neufeld)
What strategies have you found or come up with that help your child stay connected to you? I'm super keen to hear them. Let me know using the Comment box below...