Goodbye, Hello: Helping children to cope with change

Published on: 16 November 2020

We all have to say goodbye to things - whether it's a t-shirt you've outgrown, a friend moving away, or a beloved pet. But author and illustrator Cori Doerrfeld suggests there's a way to help children see the positive side of change, and find a new 'hello' after a 'goodbye'.

Illustration by Cori Doerrfeld

Change is a part of being human

Kids come into this world not knowing what to expect. For them, routine and consistency create a sense of security. But life isn’t always predictable, so how can we as adults shape a healthy perspective around change? I myself struggled with change a few years ago when my two closest friends moved away. It felt as if my chance to have good friends was suddenly over. Then, one morning at the bus stop I took a chance and said hello to another mum. That one hello led to countless others, and I now know that there is another side to goodbye. As I wrote the book, Say Goodbye...Say Hello,  I began to see that change is an inevitable and essential part of being human. It became clear that we need to teach our kids to see the hellos after the goodbyes, and know that even if we can’t control change, we can control how we react to it.

The first step in developing a healthy goodbye/hello relationship is acknowledging that life is made up of a series of small changes. We take off pyjamas to get dressed. Playtime becomes work time. Clean dishes become dirty dishes. By recognizing that change is always happening in some way, adults can begin to help children understand that change is a natural part of the day. We can make these smaller transitions smooth and successful, so that kids develop an acceptance and confidence around change. Teach children to see that day always becomes night, stormy skies lead to rainbows, and caterpillars turn into butterflies.

Helping a child say the small goodbyes and hellos throughout their day paves the way to coping with bigger and unexpected changes. 

Illustration by Cori Doerrfeld

Look for the hellos that are waiting

Once you’ve started to foster the idea that change is always happening, you can begin to talk about how perceived and processed. Let kids know that it's perfectly acceptable to not like change, to feel frustrated, or to wish things were the way they were before. What is difficult for a child to let go, might seem trivial to an adult, but allowing space for kids to express their emotions over a broken crayon or waiting for their favorite blanket to dry helps validate and empower a child’s self-worth. Being empathetic during small changes again helps kids prepare for more dramatic events later on. It is hard to say goodbye to being at the park, a visit from grandma, or beloved pet. Honouring the goodbye in all changes big and small can help kids develop a healthy sense of emotional release.

Once a change is acknowledged and the goodbye is felt, we can start to look for the hellos that are waiting. Earlier this year, I had to put down my little dog. Saying goodbye to him was gut-wrenching. My children were there as well. We all cried together. It felt like we would be sad forever, but our friends and family reminded us that we were not alone. We said hello to so many notes, little gifts, and incredible love. Eventually we said hello to a new rescue dog whose antics have been a welcome pandemic distraction. I still grieve my other dog, but I have learned to hold space for that goodbye as well as embrace the new hellos. Kids can learn to do the same if the adults in their life help them to see both sides of change. Yes it is sad to outgrow your favorite shirt, but now it can bring joy to someone else. It isn’t always fun when summer shifts to fall, but look at how pretty the leaves become.

A goodbye can always be a hello if you learn to recognize the positive parts of change.

Illustration by Cori Doerrfeld

We can't control change... but we can control how we react to it

Ultimately, kids and adults can begin to understand that even when life feels overwhelmed by change we always have the ability to choose how we react. I wrote Say Goodbye...Say Hello to illustrate how change can even be celebrated when you go through it with someone supportive. When we first meet Stella in my book she seems very uncertain about leaving her mom and going to school. But then she meets Charlie, who just like a good caregiver, helps Stella see the positive result or the hello after the goodbye. Sunsets lead to counting stars, and melting snowmen lead to puddle jumping. No matter what, Charlie is there for Stella as places, seasons, and circumstances change. When Charlie moves away, we see that all those experiences have helped shape Stella’s perception of change. She cannot make Charlie move back, but she can choose to stay in touch. More importantly, Stella can open her heart to a new friend and pass on everything Charlie did for her. I feel it is helpful for kids and adults to remember that once you are ready, opening yourself up to change can lead to relationships, adventures, and emotions you never even knew were waiting.

In a world that feels more chaotic than ever, people need to know that they always have the power to choose what to focus on. I believe the more people take the time to acknowledge change, hold space for difficult emotions, and look for the positive results, the easier it becomes to cope with change. With the help of thoughtful caregivers, even children can learn to navigate unpredictable times and realize that there is always light in the dark, there can be love after loss, and that every goodbye leads to a hello.

Illustration by Cori Doerrfeld

Cori Doerrfeld's book, Say Goodbye... Say Hello is reviewed here. Follow Cori on Twitter and Instagram.