School Gate Goodbyes

It’s the start of the new school year, and like many children, Little C has started at a new school.

I’ve been thinking about how it feels for children and parents to say that last goodbye when they arrive at school, whether it’s the first day ever, a new school, or simply a new school year.

One of the best pieces of advice my mother ever gave me was to make it as fast as possible. On my very first day at school she gave me a kiss, put my hand in the teacher’s hand, and walked away without looking back.

Of course, I have no memory of this, and I wasn’t a clingy or anxious child. But her rationale for this approach makes perfect sense.

She told me that she was infuriated by parents who seemed to spend forever saying goodbye to their child. The parent would be repeating ‘Bye bye, I’m going now darling’ whilst not actually doing anything of the kind. When they had finally decided to stop clinging to the child, they’d proceed to slowly back away still waving and goodbye-ing. By this point the child would be semi-hysterical and straining towards the departing parent. Often the parent would then return to the child, who would clutch at them frantically. This went on for some time. It looked like the parents were indulging their own feelings at the expense of their child’s.

I’ve seen this a couple of times myself, and it never fails to piss me off.

Yes, it’s crappy leaving your child when they’re upset. Yes, you might feel like crying, or at the very least your voice and body language will reflect how crappy you feel. You don’t actually want to let them go. You want to hold them and comfort them. You want to keep them in sight until the last possible moment. You can’t bear the thought of turning your back on your unhappy baby.

Children pick up on all these things, and if they’re sad or anxious to start off with, that’s not going to help them feel better.

It’s painful, but so are many things about being a parent.

Go. Just go. Fast. Keep smiling. Don’t look back.

I remember regularly leaving Little C with a sitter when she was a baby. She would be screaming in the sitter’s arms as I walked out the door. I very quickly learned to make sure she was in the living room, thoroughly distracted, and simply leave without acknowledgement. I also learned the screams stopped within moments, once I was out of sight.

Like many children, Little C can be anxious and clingy in unfamiliar situations. In the two years she spent at nursery it was a rare morning that I was able to leave without her in tears and one of the staff physically prying her off me.

That did indeed feel crappy. I worked incredibly hard to keep a smile on my face, and to make sure I wasn’t holding on to her. Unlike Orpheus I never, ever looked back as I left.

She would cheer up very quickly after I’d gone; it was the actual separation process that was a problem.

When she started regular school she was still extremely clingy (those little hands are strong!). We were fortunate to have sympathetic and helpful teachers who would either bodily remove her or distract her enough for her to let go and me to make a run for it.

I’ve discovered the best goodbye is actually none at all.

In almost all circumstances where it is necessary for me to leave her somewhere, my tactic is to wait until her attention is elsewhere and then make a sharp exit. There are very few times we’ve actually said goodbye properly, and only in places where she is completely at ease.

Sometimes I think it would be lovely to have a big hug and kiss and ‘goodbye Mummy!’ as she happily skips off. But while she doesn’t like it when I leave, she’s perfectly happy when I’m not there. I have it on good authority she is a happy, independent, and confident child. Not saying goodbye makes the transition between me being there and not being there an awful lot easier for us both.


This morning I took her into her new school. She was excited but very nervous. We’d talked a lot about those feelings, and how I was feeling the same way, and how lots of the other children would feel that way too.

Her new teacher greeted us at the door, asked Little C if she’d had a good summer, and remarked that she must be feeling quite odd being in a new place. Little C had her head down and mumbled a response, but she didn’t turn tail and run. It also helped her hands were full of bags. The teacher took us to find her new peg. Bags were hung up, wellies and waterproofs were dumped, and she followed her teacher into the classroom without a backwards glance.

No goodbye. Perfect.

Read about how to say goodbye to your child at the school gate

Mommy Knows What’s Best also has some great tips for taking awesome first day of school pictures!