His big blue eyes fill with tears as I say “goodbye.” I know I’ll only be gone a few hours, but he acts like we’ll be separated forever.

Leaving your child at day care can be one of the hardest things a parent has to do.

My 3-year-old has good days and bad days. A good day consists of him walking into his classroom, giving me a hug and kiss and no tears. A bad day consists of him clinging tightly to me as we enter his classroom. After many hugs, kisses and tears, I finally have to leave while he gives me an, “I need you, why are you leaving me?” look.

Bad days are heart wrenching. Good days are liberating. Thankfully, he has more good days than bad.

With so many different aspects to parenting, it can often be taxing trying to learn everything. But one of the most important and often most difficult things you can teach your child is independence.

As the mother of four children, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. One is to only coddle your child when it is needed and to not coddle too much. Children need to know their parents are close by in case they need them, but they should also be encouraged to explore the world around them.

When my husband takes our 3-year-old to day care, our son often sheds a few tears. (I think my husband secretly sheds a few, too.) The problem is, my husband tends to coddle our youngest a little more than I do, and he has his daddy wrapped around his little finger. My husband gives in to him more often, too.

Don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly healthy to love your child and to show them that love, but there also comes a time when you must put your foot down. Therefore, when I take him to day care, I let him know that I have to leave for work but I’ll be back. Then I distract him with a toy or friend. I put on an “I mean business” face, he adjusts, and I leave peacefully.

Inside, I’m crying my eyes out and longing to hold and hug him all day. But he will never know that. My husband, on the other hand, does not conceal his feelings well. If our son thinks he can change his daddy’s mind, he will push those buttons.

Kiss and hug your children as often as you can, but know when to put on a straight face and let them go. You can get in your car and cry for hours, if you wish, but I suggest you don’t let your child see. Otherwise, they’ll cling tighter and make it even harder on everyone. As they get older and can understand more, then it’s probably more acceptable to freely show your feelings without influencing your child’s behavior.

Tough love is difficult, but very necessary for healthy growth and development.

Herald correspondent Jennifer Watson lives in Belton.

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