It always happens, at the end of a family get together, a play date, or a class, when the time comes to leave we ask our children to say goodbye to people. It’s respectful to kindly thank someone for their hospitality, time, or friendship, and either share a hug, high five, or at the very least, a smile. But for my child, it is a stressful situation that makes him really uncomfortable. So I’ve stopped forcing him to say goodbye to people and now I want to stop apologizing for it.

photo by Annie Wiegers Photography
photo by Annie Wiegers Photography

My oldest, Crumb, is the sweetest little guy. Seriously, I could go on and on, so indulge me for a minute. Crumb is 4.5 years old and a friend to everyone. That’s literally what one of his preschool teachers said to Mr. Cookie and myself; Crumb knows what activities and toys he likes to play with, but everyone is always welcome to join him. When I see Crumb playing with his little brother or one of his cousins, I often see him letting them start the game, play with the toy first, or get the color they desire. Crumb is intelligent, empathetic, curious, and has a relatively easy time with school and transitions. But Crumb is also very shy and sensitive. He doesn’t like being the center of attention, ever. For example, we couldn’t sing happy birthday to him for a few years, and he always gets very nervous when it comes to preschool performances or parades (and sometimes refuses to participate), and relating back to the point of this post, Crumb is terrible at saying goodbye to people.

I know I don’t have to defend my child, or make a huge disclaimer, but I’ve had enough uncomfortable situations to know that sometimes people expect them of me. We can be having a wonderful time but at the mention of goodbye or us leaving, my son is suddenly looking at the ground or hiding behind me. Gentle coaxing doesn’t help, and instead forces him to say, “I don’t want to do that.” I know most parents get it, and often agree with me that I shouldn’t force my son to do something that causes him anxiety, but when his little friends or cousins ask for a hug, I know that they don’t understand why Crumb is refusing. Naturally the other parent feels bad for their confused child who is being ignored, and then I feel bad for everyone involved so I start making excuses and apologizing and it becomes a frustrating moment.

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Parenting is chock full of frustrations and we always want to be the best advocate we can for our child. But the truth is, I don’t fully understand his fear of saying goodbye. I was raised thinking it was rude if you didn’t hug your family and friends before parting ways, but I am much more outgoing and extroverted than my son. And that’s OK. Not every child is going to be outgoing. Not everyone is an extrovert. There are some kiddos that love to be affectionate, chatty, and outwardly excited with their friends, but not every kid is like that, and mine is definitely not. We tend to want to encourage everyone to be more social, but my child is plenty social and like my husband, I believe he is an introvert. Since Crumb recharges at home, he is great at independent and imaginative play. Just this year Crumb has specifically asked us to not put him in any activities. He was given the option of music, gymnastics, soccer, and swimming and he point-blank told us that he just wants to go to preschool and that’s it. I struggle with this because I want him to experience more of life, learn new things, and meet new friends. Fortunately, there is plenty of time for a packed schedule later on, so we are listening to our 4-year-old and showing him that we respect his opinions.

photo by Annie Wiegers Photography
photo by Annie Wiegers Photography

Thankfully society as a whole seems to be going away from forcing children to do things like have conversations with everyone they meet, give hugs to adults they don’t know, and say goodbye when they have no desire to do so. I know that the more comfortable my son is with someone or with the situation, the more likely he is to reciprocate that fist bump or high five. But I’ve seen him completely retreat from his own grandma in his own house due to his current mood, and he loves her to pieces so I wish I could just explain to everyone that his response has nothing to do with them.

My younger son has a completely different personality and loves giving his friends hugs goodbye. I’ve stopped putting Crumb on the spot, and usually little brother Chip does the goodbye for both of them. It appears that my younger son is a lot like me and my older son is a lot like my husband. Mr. Cookie is one of the best human beings I know, but he definitely dislikes anything that resembles being put on the spot or being the center of attention. Thankfully though, he has no trouble saying goodbye to people and I’m confident Crumb will only continue to improve with time and age. Until then, the next time I’m in a sticky situation with my son, I’m going to tell him it’s OK if he doesn’t want to say goodbye and I’m not going to apologize for it.

photo by Annie Wiegers Photography
photo by Annie Wiegers Photography

How does your child handle goodbyes? Any other extroverts parenting an introvert or vice versa?