Sara has been crying a lot when saying goodbye to her mother, on arrival to childcare. Someone suggested that she should leave without her noticing, but when discussing this situation with the teacher, a more constructive solution was found, making this separation less stressful for everyone: when arriving at childcare, the mother enters the classroom and plays with Sara for 5 to 10 minutes; then she tells her to wait by the window with her teacher, while she leaves to wave her goodbye from the other side of the window.

Transitions and goodbyes are inevitable and frequent throughout our lives! Helping children and their families to cope with some transitions, especially in the beginning of childcare or preschool attendance, is part of the daily work in early childhood education settings, and can be considered as a quality indicator [e.g., 1]. During this month, children are returning to their childcare centre or preschool, after a few weeks at home with their families due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This return to a ‘new normality’ is difficult for everyone, and children are no exception, highlighting the need to consider ways to cope with transitions and goodbyes.

Transition to childcare or preschool

Results from studies held in many countries [e.g., 2] indicated that in childcare centres with a vast array of transition practices, children show higher levels of emotional well-being. We can highlight some of these transition practices: gradual increase of time spent at childcare, during the first days; family invited to spend some time in the classroom; conversations with the family about what can facilitate child’s adaptation, etc. Due to COVID-19 pandemic, some recommended transition practices may need to be adapted. For instance, in some countries, parents are now not allowed to enter the classroom, and different or additional measures that respect hygiene procedures need to be found, such as the goodbye through the window, or the routine of singing together while washing hands at childcare arrival.


Children adapt differently. During transitions to childcare, they can express their emotions crying, showing more aggressive behaviours, more tantrums, withdrawing themselves, showing discomfort during care routines [3]. When responding to children, it is important to realize that these are common reactions, and mainly, that the first transitions and goodbyes may prepare the child to better deal with later transitions!

Learning that it is possible to have healthy goodbyes, which are usually part of temporary separations, is something that the child will take with herself through life [1, 4].

However, some professionals and families adopt less positive practices, like distracting the child while the mother or father sneaks out. If the family “runs away” while the child is not aware and/or underestimates what he/she is feeling, the child loses a learning opportunity and may develop a feeling of insecurity, harder to deal with than the crying motivated by the need to say “see you later”.

Mother and/or Father (or grandparents) “will come right back”?!

Well, maybe it is not “right away”, instead it may be “right after the afternoon snack” or “right after nightfall”. With the latter kind of speech, the child may start to understand the organization of the day and develop a sense of stability and safety, which allows active engagement in interactions, activities, and routines. Saying “will be right back”, when it won’t happen, doesn’t correspond to reality and… after all, in which values do we base the relationship with the child and the education?

What do children say?

In a study [5] with 47 children (3-5 years old), they showed to value the arrival routine at daycare/preschool, highlighting:

– the moment they hang their backpack in their hanger is special, representing their individuality, and makes the connection between home and daycare/preschool;

– the individual(ized) greeting from the teacher;

– the ritual in approaching the professionals, while distancing from the parents (e.g., playing peekaboo, surprising the teacher with a toy).

The same study showed that these first moments of the day set the tone for the rest of the time [5].

Communication with parents

Sometimes, parents leave the center crying and remain uncomfortable throughout the day! Acknowledging their feelings, caring for communication and partnering with parents [6], inviting them to enter the classroom if/when possible (to know what is done, how their child is treated, how he/she is coddled and cared for), sending them pictures of the child already calmed down/smiling, etc., can provide peace of mind and trust. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to reinforce parent-teacher communication given the challenges  that children, families and professionals are facing (see, e.g. How to stay in touch with your preschoolers, and include disadvantaged families?).

Other ideas?

In addition to what I mentioned, we can also think of other examples: have family photos within reach of the child; phone the parents during the day; have a visual schedule where the child can see that time to go home is getting closer; and so many more. We also count on your suggestions in the comment box.


 This blog post was contributed by Sílvia Barros (Escola Superior de Educação do Instituto Politécnico do Porto).



[1] Adams, E. J., & Parlakian, R. (2010). Movin’ on: Supportive transitions for infants and toddlers. Young Children, 65 (3), 54-55. Available at

[2] Peixoto, C., Barros, S., Coelho, V., Cadima, J., Pinto, A. I., & Pessanha, M. (2017). Transição para a creche e bem-estar emocional dos bebês em Portugal. [Transition to daycare and the emotional well being of babies in Portugal]. Psicologia Escolar e Educacional, 21(3), 427-436.

[3] National Center on Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning. (n.d.). Supporting transitions: Using child development as a guide. Available at

[4] Balaban, N. (2011). Transition to group care for infants, toddlers and families. In D. M. Laverick & M. R. Jalongo (Orgs.), Transitions to early care and education, educating the young child (pp. 7-20). New York: Springer Science-Business Media.

[5] Grace, R., Walsh, R., & Baird, K. (2018). Connection, special objects and congruence: the perspectives of young children from disadvantaged communities on participation in early childhood education settings. Early Child Development and Care, 188 (8),1176-1189, DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2016.1251915

[6] Coelho, V., Barros, S., Pessanha, M., Peixoto, C., Cadima, J., & Pinto, A. I. (2015). Parceria família-creche na transição do bebé para a creche. [Family-daycare partnership in babies transition to daycare]. Análise Psicológica, 33 (4), 373-389.


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“Mum will be (right) back”? Transitions and goodbyes at childcare and preschool
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