Helping a Child Say Good-bye to her Mom

(C) Horton Group 2006

I had been playing with a mother and her 4-year old daughter at a PlayMorning. We were having a good time together. The mother wanted to do a short listening exchange with another parent, out of sight of her daughter, but in the same building. The daughter did not like this idea and cried for her mommy not to leave her.

Her mom told me that her daughter often had a hard time with goodbyes. We decided to have her mother delay leaving, so she could stay and listen to her daughter. We did listen. I stayed close, to build the connection that comes through listening well to someone. The daughter sat in her mother’s lap, and her mother did a beautiful job of alternating between letting her know she loved her and saying that soon she was going to go to the next room for a few minutes.

I stayed close and gave them both my attention. After about 10 minutes of crying, the daughter was able to allow her mother to put her in my lap. The moment of separation had come, and she was going to be brave and let her mother go. I could see that she still wasn’t really happy. So again, rather than having her mom go away quickly, I suggested that we practice her departure. Both liked the idea. The mom walked away just a few feet, turned and smiled at her daughter.

The daughter and I held hands and we took two little steps further away from mom, stopped, and counted to five on our fingers. Two more steps, count to five again, and, once again, two more steps, count to five. I asked her how she was feeling. She said, “Fine” and then said her mom could go now. The mom left, and the daughter and I played together. She chased me and then had a great time throwing little pillows at me. She had played cautiously around the edges of the room earlier in the morning. When the mom finished her listening time and returned, her daughter was right in the middle of things, happy, engaged and carefree.

At the end of the PlayMorning, the daughter began to cry because she did not want the PlayMorning to end. The mother listened to her daughter once again, and reassured her that they would come back another time. Her sadness cleared much more quickly than before, and we had a sweet good bye. It was great to listen to her share her concerns about her mother leaving for a short time, see that she felt safe enough with me and the others there to play hard and have fun, and then see that she felt so close to her mother and to the people she’d been playing with that she didn’t want to stop.

— a mother in Berkeley, CA

One thought on “Helping a Child Say Good-bye to her Mom

  1. Wow this is so insightful – thank you for sharing this experience and I will try it in future with the school I am working at – its in a township and although they are often happy to be at school there are some who do get separation anxiety and this could work. Thanks Iona

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