It’s a familiar and heart-wrenching scene at preschools and daycares everywhere: Mom or Dad is trying to drop off their preschooler, and the little one is clinging desperately- and usually tearfully- to Mom or Dad.

While it’s difficult to watch, it’s even more difficult to endure, both as a parent and as a child. But with a little bit of dedication and a loving routine, this kind of scene can become a distant memory for both parent and child. Here are 4 steps to a happy goodbye.

1. Talk About It

The more you can talk to your toddler in a positive light about preschool, and specifically about the first minutes of the school day, the more they will begin to associate positive feelings with morning drop-off. Repeatedly tell your child a “story” about what you believe is an ideal drop-off. Say things like, “When we get there, we’ll hang up your backpack and jacket on your hook, and then we’ll go sit down and do some sorting work together. Then I’ll give you a kiss and hug and say goodbye and leave for work!” Talk about this not only before school, but after school, in the evenings, and on weekends as well. You may even want to use pretend play at home to act out what the drop-off will be like.

2. Don’t Sneak Out

With toddlers, it’s tempting to drop and run, hoping to avoid the wailing alarm set off by your departure. But doing this can erode trust, and you want your farewell to be a positive thing, not a sneaky escape. Instead, get them settled with some interesting work, and sit down and work with them for a few minutes until they seem content. Then give them a hug and a kiss, and say, “I’m leaving now, but I’ll be back soon!” Then get up and leave the room without delay.

3. Tearful Transitions

Even with careful preparation, it will likely take time for your toddler to get used to you leaving, and that’s okay. If they begin crying right away, leave the room and count to ten, then return smiling and say, “See? I said I’d be back soon. How is that work going?” Sit back down next to them and continue working with them until they calm down. Once they’re settled, give them the hug and kiss and say, “You’re doing a wonderful job. I’m leaving now, but I’ll be back soon.”

Again, your toddler may have a difficult time, but continue leaving for longer periods of time- a few seconds to a minute, a minute to a few minutes, a few minutes to several minutes, and on up, returning cheerfully every time. Doing this repeatedly teaches your toddler that yes, Mom does always come back when she says she will. This may take a few days of early arrivals at preschool and some days of late arrivals at work, but the payoff of an easy and pleasant school drop-off will be well worth it.

4. Make It Fun

Rather than a simple hug and a kiss, you may want to include special rituals for you and your child to share at drop-off time, like a “secret” handshake, or even a “secret” hug. This could be something simple like wiggling your fingers at each other, blinking twice, and then giving each other a big bear hug and a high-five. Get creative and have fun with it!

This kind of ritual has the added benefit of giving your goodbyes a definite beginning and ending, which helps eliminate the problem of the dragged-out, clinging farewell. Plus, it’s a great way to strengthen your bond with your child by sharing something special that’s just for the two of you.

As you stay positive and persistent, you’ll be able to turn those tearful goodbyes into fun farewells, and everyone can start the day with smiles on their faces.

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