Is your daily preschool drop-off becoming a struggle filled with tears?
Follow these simple guidelines and make drop-off a positive experience that doesn’t traumatize you or your child.
This article is based on my years teaching in the preschool classroom, many hours of which were dedicated to receiving children from their parents.
Read on to hear how this daily routine impacts children from a teacher’s perspective and what you can do to make the process as smooth as possible.
It is possible to stop a child from crying at preschool and make drop off a happy part of the day.
How Children Typically Separate From Parents in Preschool
Children generally enter the preschool classroom in one of the following ways:
- They run in, hug their parent goodbye, hug their teacher and find a friend to play with.
- They run in, don’t even look back at their parent and go off and play (leaving the parent quite tearful!)
- They come in, hug their parent goodbye, hug the teacher for a while until they’ve “warmed up” and then slowly make their way to go play.
- They come in (holding their parent fairly tightly), hug goodbye, then maybe run after their parent another time to steal another hug before they go to the teacher or a friend.
- They come in clutching their parent, cry for 5 minutes while they are consoled by the parent, and eventually say a final goodbye. They run off to find a friend.
- They come in clutching their parent (or is the parent clutching onto the child?) and cry uncontrollably and hysterically. The teacher tries to take the child but the parent holds tighter. The parent and child then start a game of “I have to go”, “Ok I’ll stay just a few minutes longer” which can last anywhere between 10 minutes and 45 minutes. Parent somehow eventually leaves. The child runs off to find a friend.
(Please take note of how, in the last example, the child still runs off to play almost immediately after the parent leaves.)
All children are different. Your child may be the one who runs in and doesn’t take a second glance at you, or they may be the one who spends a few minutes talking to the teacher until they feel confident enough to go off and do their own thing.
All the styles mentioned above are normal because children have different personalities and react to situations differently.
With one exception. The last example. If this is happening to you in the mornings, then it has begun to move away from an extra hug or two, towards an out-of-control ritual that is neither healthy for you nor your child.
If your child is crying at school drop off occasionally, follow the guidelines in this article to make the process smoother.
If you are spending more than 5 minutes at drop-off daily (and especially if you’re spending 45 minutes), then you need to implement these strategies as a matter of urgency, so that you don’t make drop-off a traumatic experience for your child’s entire schooling career.
Why Do Children Cry at Drop-Off?
Because they can. (With some exceptions).
That is really the reason.
If your mom stayed an extra 10 minutes and gave you ten extra hugs, why wouldn’t you keep her around as long as possible?
Parents who drop-and-go don’t experience these daily struggles because the option isn’t available. The children know their parents won’t hang around unnecessarily so why go to all the trouble?
Those children who spend half an hour sobbing dry their tears and begin their day the very second their parent turns the corner to leave. If they were truly traumatized, they would be upset all day. Almost every single time, they instantly get back into the routine.
I’m sure your child’s teacher has told you several times that the second you leave they are fine. Believe them. Don’t try to prove them wrong.
It is normal for every child to have bad days or be tearful every now and again, but if you are in a daily pattern of tears and drama, then your child has picked up an unhealthy habit and has worked out exactly how to keep you at school as long as possible.
Going to School For the First Time?
If your child is going to school for the first time, after only ever being at home, then you can expect a few tears. These could last a day or even a week or two. Soon, your child will realize school is a fun, safe place and the tears will disappear.
How you handle the separation will determine how quickly the adjustment happens (as well as your child’s individual personality).
The same may happen if you move schools or if your child has experienced a traumatic event. In these cases, being firm and dropping off confidently is still going to send a better message than holding each other for long periods, creating anxiety for both of you.
If you are months or a year in and still having tearful mornings, you as the parent need to take control and change this situation.
N.B. These guidelines are for children attending schools that are safe, where teachers care for and look after them. If your child is crying unusually or reporting constant bullying or an unsafe environment, then other solutions need to be implemented.
How to Stop Your Child From Crying at Preschool
Here are some tips to help you both start each day on a good note:
1. Be the Model
Before you can make any real change to drop-off time, you must realize as a parent that you are the model that your child learns from. The number one factor in having a positive drop-off experience is for YOU to be positive.
2. Decide if You Want the Change
This may seem like a strange statement. Obviously, you want your child to have a happier separation.
Do some deep digging and answer some tough questions. Do you slightly appreciate the feeling that your child doesn’t want you to leave? Perhaps it makes you feel wanted as a parent – maybe even just subconsciously?
This is normal. Your child feels the safest with you and is prepared to cry and fight to stay with you.
You need to make a decision that you want your child to be happy to kiss you goodbye and be excited to see their friends. This does not mean you are any less their favourite person on earth!
3. Create a Positive Expectation
When you are at home getting ready for school in the mornings, are you creating an expectation that the day will be fun or are you pre-empting the difficult separation?
Are you discussing how you only have time for 10 hugs today because you have a meeting, or are you asking what your child feels like painting today during free play?
4. Watch Your Language
This is probably one of the biggest factors in influencing the morning drop-off. Be mindful of what language you are using as this will directly impact how your child experiences it.
When you try to kiss your child goodbye do you say “Have an amazing day. Love you.” or do you say things like “Don’t worry my darling. Before you know it mommy will be back to fetch you. I won’t be gone for very long. Everything is going to be ok. If you miss me, just hold onto this bracelet of mine.”
Can you hear the difference? Tell your child that everything will be ok and you will have them wondering if something is supposed to go wrong.
While your child is clutching you at school, do not say to the teacher “She won’t let go. I’m afraid I won’t be getting out of here today. I need to stay longer because she is very emotional today.”
You’ll be amazed at how many parents use this kind of language in front of their children daily. How exactly is that going to make your child feel confident?
5. Let School Be Your Child’s Territory
School is supposed to be your child’s place of work and play. Parents should not be infringing on their privacy.
This may sound harsh but school is where your child will develop their own persona, find their own friends, develop a relationship with their teacher and have an experience that is uniquely theirs.
Talk about school to your child as if it is their territory. Tell them about your day and what you plan to do at work or at home and ask about their plans for their day. Make them understand they are in control of their own experiences.
Don’t have conversations with family and friends in front of your child where you tell them that your child is scared at school or needs your help. Don’t tell your child that you understand that they don’t like school but that they have to go.
They are in preschool. Unless something else is happening, your child should be loving school. They should not be sad because they miss you. They should be excited to come home and show you what they have made.
6. If You’re Confident, They’re Confident
When you drop your child off, the process should go like this:
- Walk your child into class (at around age 4 or 5 you may want to try dropping at the gate some days)
- Give your child a big smile and a big squeeze.
- Say something positive – “Have an awesome day my baby. See you after school. I love you.”
- Leave immediately
This kind of drop-off is sending a serious message to your child. You have shown your child how confident you are that school is a safe, great place. They will have no reason to worry and fear what’s coming.
If you give them a positive send-off each morning and then return to fetch them every day as promised, they will develop security with this routine.
When you exude confidence, your child will pick up on it. Be extremely mindful of the last thing you say to your child as you leave.
7. Be the Parent
Remember that you are the parent and you make rules based on what you think is best for your child. If your rule is a kiss and a hug at drop-off then implement your rule.
Just because your child wants you to stay longer, does not mean you have to. You know better. You are the adult and you know that dropping off is better for their overall security and emotional well-being.
You are allowed to say no. Say it lovingly and stick to your rules.
If you have been having a tough separation for a while now, the only way you can break the cycle is to rip it like a band-aid. Doing it slowly will be a slow torture and will not work.
Giving 10 hugs will not make your child feel more secure than the usual 20.
Have a firm conversation with your child. Explain that school is a great place and that from now on you will be dropping off and giving only one really big squeeze. Then you will be leaving and you’ll be back to fetch them at home time.
Tell your child’s teacher and expect buckets of tears. These will disappear very quickly as your child realizes that the new routine is permanent.
Cave in and stay 10 minutes on a bad day and you will be back to square one.
Eventually, (actually probably within 2 or 3 days) your child will surrender to the fact that school is not really that bad, mom still loves me and the mornings are far easier.
If you think it will make your life easier, just imagine how much happier your child will be when they don’t start each day in tears!
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