The big conundrum: how to confidently leave your child at kindergarten.
Every morning at our kindergarten, someone was rostered as a volunteer helper. One day when it was my turn, I watched with interest as a mother and son went through their farewell ritual.
“Is it okay if I go now Billy?” the lovely mother asked.
“No, Mummy, not yet.” So, she stayed to play a little longer.
Five minutes later, she asked again. “Can I go now, Billy?”
“No!” came the stern reply. And so it continued.
Hours later, after morning tea, the kindergarten teacher also became involved.
“Alright Billy, it’s time to let Mummy go home and wash the dishes,” she explained, making it clear these shenanigans should stop.
Billy looked sadly up at the two women. And he sighed a big sigh.
“Alright Mummy, you can go home,” he mumbled.
Tearfully, Billy stood at the door, while his distraught mother walked away.
And in less than 30 seconds, the little rascal ran from the door and went outside happily to play!
Did You See That?
It’s easy to see what happened: A lovely, considerate mother asked her four-year-old son’s permission to leave. And because she asked, he takes control of the situation and says, “No!”
Yep. Billy was in in control of that situation. The sigh at the door, and the tears were all part of the sham. And the final indignity to his mother – if only she had known – the quick run outside to play.
Who do you think is the most needy? Billy? Or his mother?
Does that story ring true for you?
Part of my interest in the conversation I overheard was that, years before, I was just like that mother! By the time I witnessed that interaction, I had changed. By then, I knew the golden words, “It’s time for me to go now.”
You’re not alone if this is your usual way of doing things. It’s so normal because (of course!) you want to know your child is okay with you leaving. However, asking their permission is not the best thing to do, for either of you.
How to Leave Your Child
Perhaps this mother could have got her boy’s attention, and calmly and kindly taken control. If she gave a time-frame, and explained when she expected to be back, even better.
When it’s time to leave your child, it’s much better to avoid asking a question, and instead, to make a statement. Like this …
“Billy, in five minutes I’ll leave. I’ll be back later to take you home. What will we do before I go?”
Even if he had protested, at least the mother would be in control. Plus, Billy has some say in what happens, because deciding on an activity for those last few minutes makes him feel empowered.
Using a quiet, firm and friendly voice, the “I am leaving in X-minutes” statement can be repeated as necessary. If needed, you can ask another adult to back you up. In this case, perhaps the kindergarten teacher.
Then, after five minutes are up (you can even set a timer): “Okay Billy. It’s time for me to go now. See you later.”
It’s time for kisses and cuddles. And then a quick walk out the door, without turning to see the tears. Because tears almost always come and go very quickly.
What children CAN decide on
It’s tricky, because at the time, asking for your child’s permission feels good and right. It’s only when you get a master manipulator like Billy that you see the awful drawn-out scenario. But it doesn’t mean you always make every decision for your child.
Because, there are times when it’s perfectly fine for a child to have the decision-making power. Maybe for sandwich-filling-choices: “Peanut butter or cheese?” Obviously, if they have a dairy intolerance, or a nut allergy, you don’t ask that question. Instead, you offer suitable fillings.
Every age and stage has an appropriate level of decision-making ability. The sandwich-filling question is a suitable level of power for a four-year-old.
There’s a million other choices you can suggest to your children to help them learn to be decisive, and set them up for future life: What shoes today? How do you want to spend your birthday money? What book would you like me to read now?
What DO parents decide, then?
However, sometimes parents give children too much responsibility, way ahead of the maturity of the child. I know some parents who asked their child for permission for the family to move house!
There are many situations when, without thinking about it, you don’t ask for a child’s permission, simply because it’s in the best interest of your child. When in danger (don’t cross that road!); when in a rush (get in the car now!); at mealtimes (come and eat your dinner!); and when there are tears (no talking required).
I’m all for a family discussion about life-changing family situations. But ultimately, those large decisions are a parent’s responsibility. While they may gather information from their children, the parents are the ones to make the final call. Giving those decisions to your child just adds unnecessary stress and anxiety to a young life.
Parents are the ones who ease the way for children to become adults. After all, that’s what parenting is all about. Giving children the appropriate amount of decision-making capacity is another small step towards your overall goal of raising a great adult. [link to blog]
It’s all part of the long-term plan: letting go of your child, and teaching independence. That’s why it’s important to learn to leave your child with others in a safe place, like kindergarten.
Identity: Yours and Theirs
“Repeat after me: Your children are wired to build a separate identity,” writes Sarah Mahoney for Family Circle. It’s true. Your job as a mother is not to fight against internal wiring, but to help it unfold properly. By affirming their separate identity, and giving them appropriate choices, your children will grow in strength, dignity and self-sufficiency. But it means that as they grow in their understanding of self, you need to let go. Which is not always easily done!
The reason it’s not easy to leave your child is because so often your personal identity gets caught up with your child’s approval. Don’t let this happen to you.
Use your discernment to keep your understanding of self, separate from them. You are precious just as you are. Your identity is unique. You are enough. You do not have to rely on a child’s approval or permission to be valuable.
This is all part of letting your child go – something which you start doing in stages from when they are quite young. And if you can’t leave your child at kindergarten, you end up with sad stories, like Billy and his mother.
What can you give yourself permission to do this week to let your child go one bit more?