Monday, January 9, 2012

Traveling with kids: saying goodbye at the airport

Saying goodbye.

Over the years, my family has said a lot of goodbyes in airports. That's just the way it is when you have close family that live in another town or another country. And over time you kind of get used to it, and used to that twinge of sadness you feel each time you do it. You try to think about the good times you've had together during your visit, and look forward to the next time you'll see each other.

For kids though, it's not always easy to get used to it. I can see this in my own kids, who sometimes can get quite distressed when we're saying our goodbyes. Usually not so much when we're all leaving a place together, as when someone else has been visiting us and is leaving. Maybe it's the excitement of travel that kind of overrides the sadness of saying goodbye, I don't know.

What I do know is that saying goodbye at the airport can be very stressful and difficult for some children, and that kids can have very different ways of dealing with the stress and sadness of those goodbyes. My daughter, who is 4 years old, will usually hug and hug and hug and not let go.

For my 8-year old son, who often sees the world a little differently, it's tougher. When he was younger, he would sometimes grab my parents' hand-luggage as they were about to head through security, just so they would not be able to leave. He might also express his feelings by crying, screaming, and refusing to leave the airport after we've said our goodbyes.

These days, his main way to deal with it, is to refuse saying the word goodbye, and to refuse giving farewell hugs. He insists on coming along to the airport, but he is not a happy camper once it's time for people to leave. It's almost as though he's hoping that by refusing to say the words and give the hugs, he can prevent it from happening. This behavior can sometimes be a little trying for other family members who want that last hug and goodbye, but it his way of dealing with something he finds emotionally overwhelming.

Here are 3 tips for how to make those goodbyes a little easier on you and your kids:
  • Say your goodbyes before you go to the airport, even if the kids are coming along. Airports can be very stressful environments for kids and adults, and it might be easier for everyone to say the kind of goodbye they want to say, and get an hug or two or three in before going there.
  • Allow your child to say goodbye in whatever way they can handle. As in my own family's case, kids can have very different ways of dealing with the situation. If they are reluctant to hug or even look at the people leaving, it doesn't necessarily mean they don't care: it might mean they care so much they can barely handle it.
  • Talk to your child, before and after, about the fun things you've done with the departing person, and mention that you will see them again. 
  • Suggesting specific things you can do to stay in touch can really help, such as phone calls, writing a letter, sending them drawings, Skype-ing, or other activities. For more ideas, you can read my post 7 ways to stay in touch and handle separation anxiety.


  1. I`ve lived in Canada for almost 7 years with my husband. My whole family is in Venezuela and we are very close, so airport goodbyes have always been difficult. My whole family insists on going to the airport each time which makes it even worst for me. Now we have a baby and I am terrified of the goodbyes to come! My parents are very attached to him and wen we go visit them we stay at least a month. I know he is very young now, but do you have any advice for us? I really don't know how to deal with this (I am already in tears and I leave in 2 days!)

    1. It is really hard, and I don't really have any solution for you that will totally make it all better. I know that for my family, they want to say goodbye at the airport, even though it often leads to tears. For my kids, I try to focus on talking about the good times we had together, and that we will see each other again, and that we can talk to each other while we're apart as well: not to dwell on the sadness, but try to find the good things. It doesn't totally work, because it is a sad moment when you say goodbye, but at least it gives you something good to hold on to! My 9 year old son STILL hates airport goodbyes and is always in a funk afterwards, while my 5 year old daughter handles them a little better... It's a tough thing! I wish you all the best!

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