There are times in everyone’s life when we need to either welcome new friends and meet new people or say goodbye to the people we already know and love. There are very few people who are with us on our entire life journey. Mostly, we encounter new friends and colleagues along the way. Some of them we meet only once, others are there for a short time, and yet others could be with us for life. So how do we best teach our early years children about this fundamental truth - that sometimes we need to be ready to say “hello”, and other times, we need to find a way to say “goodbye”?
In general, ‘hellos’ are usually easier to say than ‘goodbyes’ because we have less to lose. We don’t yet know the person, and have not yet formed any relationship with, or attachment to them, so we have nothing to lose by saying “hello”.
Someone once said that: “Strangers are just friends we haven’t met yet” and this seems a compassionate and optimistic way to view all new faces. When meeting new people, whether talking about staff or children, there are some factors that can influence how easy people find it. These include:
- Whether everyone is new (such as at the start of term), or whether they are the only new one (for example when people join part-way through a term)
- How confident the person feels inside
- The culture they come from
- Their personality type - introverted or extroverted
- Any special needs they have, for example, they may dislike crowds or noise, or be completely opposite and need to run around and meet everyone
- The situation on the day i.e. whether they are late, early or stressed
- The emotional state of the other people they are meeting
How to ease ‘hellos’ for children
At the start of term, think about:
- Creating a welcome pack and sending this out to parents in good time
- What your procedure is for drop-off and how long parents/carers are allowed to stay
- Activities that can calm nervous/anxious or excited children so that the setting is ordered and calm. These could be circle games, name games, and introductions
- Think about how to mark the moment for children so they know it’s a special day – you could help them create a “This is me” book, or a short video (if you have consent) or perhaps a display where the children draw or mark-make something unique
- The rules and agreements that you need to establish on day one, and which ones can be spaced out over the day – e.g. lunchtime routines
- Staffing and who will be introduced, e.g. key person, room leader
- Think too about how you will minimise potential conflicts on day one and what you will do should they occur
- Organising ‘friendship days’ prior to the start date
New staff need to be made to feel welcome and that they can easily fit into the team. They ideally need a buddy or mentor identified so that they can ask them questions easily without always feeling like ‘the new person’.
New staff should also have a proper induction process which includes safeguarding training, HR checks, a tour, details of all day-to-day procedures and protocols, and an introduction to their team.
If staff or students join part-way through the year, make sure that you have a plan to help them integrate into your setting. It’s always more difficult being the only new person and trying to break into already-established friendship groups. Try to plan ahead and explain to the existing people that there will be a new friend starting. If you can arrange for the class to meet the new child (perhaps on a tour) before the actual start date, then this could minimise anxiety.
On the day, make sure you check-in regularly with them and give them a buddy or friends (possibly 2) so that they feel there is someone to help. Make sure that their key person is available on the day they start and have regular check-ins for the next few days and weeks until they are settled.
Think too about any specific issues that the mid-term starter might face. Perhaps they are a looked after child (LAC) or an asylum-seeker, which might mean they have some trauma or language issues to overcome on top of the usual “I’m new” anxieties.
As mentioned earlier, saying “goodbye” can be difficult for children. There are a number of situations where children might experience this such as:
- Children or staff leaving
- Children transitioning to Reception
- Moving rooms or changing the key person
- Staff retiring
- Family separations
Some of these instances are well-known in advance, such as a transition to Reception class and can be well-planned. Others, may have no warning and cause additional trauma.
Planning is important where possible. For transitions to Reception, think about:
- Marking the moment with a special book (like a yearbook) and assembly. Twinkl have a number of different transition day resources on their site
- Talking openly about the transition with optimism and excitement so that the children learn it is something to look forward to and not to fear
- Highlight what some of the key changes will be
- The official transition day for your area is usually at the end of June/beginning of July for all children to visit their new school and have an induction day
- Encouraging children to talk about their experiences and sort out any issues that arise by liaising with parents/carers and the new school
- Doing some role play activities about goodbyes
- Making sure that all the relevant transfer details and forms have been forwarded (or received) in good time
- Collating/downloading any welcome packs that are available and distributing them to parents
Bereavement and family separation
Where children are saying “goodbye” due to bereavement or separation, it is important to support the child through their emotional journey. They are unlikely to be prepared for a sudden death and young children cannot easily understand the concept of death being permanent until they are older. Talk plainly and not in code (i.e. don’t say things like “mummy is sleeping”) but try to understand the emotions the child will have and be there for them. There is a lot of useful information at www.childbereavementuk.org/early-years and you can look at NSPCC for information on helping children through separation and divorce. There is also a guide to how this can affect children of different ages, here.
Resources and more information