Monday 21 October 2019

Dear David Coleman: Can I prepare my daughter for her teacher leaving?

A teacher leaving can be a big loss to a three-year-old, and it will take time for them to process it
A teacher leaving can be a big loss to a three-year-old, and it will take time for them to process it
David Coleman

David Coleman

Question: Our three-year-old girl is very attached to her crèche teacher, but unfortunately she is emigrating to Australia in three weeks. My little girl loves her teacher and follows her around all day. I think if you asked her, she would say that her teacher is her best friend. She gets so excited about going to crèche just to see her. My daughter is an anxious, bright child with an acute listening ear and suspects that something is afoot. What can we do to help her cope with the huge sense of loss that she will undoubtedly feel?

David replies: It is great that you have the foresight to recognise that her crèche teacher leaving may have a big impact on your daughter. That awareness alone will probably be enough to support her through the coming weeks. Once we, as parents, understand that circumstances or events will have an emotional impact on our children we can be prepared to support them.

Since you talk about your daughter suspecting that "something is afoot", I presume her teacher hasn't told her or the other children that she will be going. The first thing to establish is whether or not her teacher plans to tell the children that she is going, and if she does plan to tell them, when will she tell them?

I think it is essential that she tells them, especially since she seems to have created such a strong bond with them. Endings are really important in our social connections and we need to have a chance to mark the endings properly so that we can begin the process of accepting the loss that will ensue.

So, if no plan is yet made to talk with the children about her leaving, you might want to encourage her to do so, such that you can then begin to talk to your daughter about what this might mean for her. At the very least, it would be nice for your daughter, and the other children, to have a chance to plan their goodbyes.

Coping with loss is a process that can, and probably will, take lots of time. It is not a once-off event that your daughter will just feel for a day, and will then move on. She may feel the pain of missing her teacher, the sadness that she is not there, the anxiety about how she herself will cope without her presence and support. She may also feel anger that her teacher has "abandoned" her.

Naturally, any or all of these feelings may be quite complex for a three-year-old to understand and overwhelming for her to experience. She may not have any capacity to express such feelings, other than appearing upset or angry.

So, you may notice that your daughter becomes sad, tearful, cross, oppositional and reluctant to go to crèche. These will all be very natural and appropriate responses to the loss she feels.

Your task is to not get sucked into responding to her behaviour, but instead, keep focused on her feelings that might underlie the behaviour. Even though she is only three, I think it will help her if you can talk, empathetically, about how sad she might feel about her teacher going (or being gone). Talk about how much she might miss her teacher, how she may be confused that her teacher can just leave, or how she may feel cross that she isn't continuing to mind her.

Continue to offer lots of stability and consistency at home. Minimise any other changes such that other aspects of her routine and her structure stay constant for her. Having stability elsewhere, in the face of a major change at crèche, will be really helpful for her.

Do acknowledge, with her, that it might be hard to get used to things being different in the crèche and then you can reassure her that things will settle again and that you have confidence that she will be okay.

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