Do you feel guilty or frustrated when your child cries at drop off? Learn how to cope with separation anxiety and make drop offs smoother.
My son was staring at me with tears welling in his eyes. Then he started to cry and scream, so much that the teacher had to scoop him in her arms. Earlier, he had been fine playing with toys, but as soon as he knew I heading out, he was inconsolable.
Meanwhile, I tried to pull myself together and head to work, except my resolve didn’t last and I felt miserable at my desk.
Drop offs officially became the hardest part of the day.
When your child cries at drop off
It seems many of us have been there. We have good days when the kids adjust well and we head to work feeling hopeful, and we have other days when the working mom guilt creeps in. We even plot strategies of how to stay home with the kids so we don’t have to deal with this anymore.
Before taking drastic changes, consider these ways you can manage when your child cries at drop off:
Keep drop offs pleasant but brief
What’s your first reaction when your child cries at drop off? Do you run to comfort her until she quiets down and feels better? Comforting her works when you’re spending the day together, but drop offs are different—you can’t be together.
Lingering until your child stops crying sends her mixed signals. She’s told she’s in safe hands, but you’re also comforting her from what may seem like an unpleasant situation. Instead, convey confidence by acknowledging her emotions while reassuring her she’ll be fine.
No one else can comfort your child better than you, but in this case, allow the teachers and child care providers to assume that role.
Keep drop offs minimal as well. Attend to the basics, then explain it’s time for you to go. When your child begins to cry, reassure her she’ll be okay. And don’t freak out—seeing you uncomfortable with leaving her there makes her worry even more.
Don’t come back for second snuggles or linger by the door, waving goodbye for five minutes. Leave with confidence so she knows this is normal and she can relax.
Dropping our eldest during the busy window meant a noisy room of people scrambling in.
Bringing him in just a few minutes earlier meant avoiding the chaos and giving him enough time to settle in. Early drop offs have made a huge difference in whether he cried or not. With an early arrival, he had extra time before the other kids arrived.
But don’t use this as an opportunity to linger. Continue to keep the drop offs brief and leave promptly and with confidence.
Guide your child to her first activity
Once your child has settled in, you or the teacher can lead her to an activity, especially one she enjoys. This allows her to focus on positive activities instead of dwelling on your impending departure.
She’s also able to get excited about her day and feel curious about what’s to come. Rather than focusing on what she can’t have (you), she can instead anticipate the fun she’ll have for the rest of the day.
Don’t leave without saying goodbye
Once you’ve settled your child into her first activity, it’s tempting to make a quick getaway and leave without saying goodbye. After all, she seems to be enjoying herself—why tarnish her mood by drawing more tears?
As easy as it is to dash out the door and avoid seeing her tears, don’t. Your child will struggle even more at the next drop off. Rather than focusing on the activity, she’ll look around and wonder whether you’re going to leave without telling her again.
Plus, she might spend the rest of the day anxious of where you had gone and why you didn’t say goodbye. Just because she didn’t cry doesn’t mean she isn’t harboring hurt, fear and anger throughout the day.
Ask your child care provider how the rest of the day went
It’s easy to stress at work when the last thing you saw was your child crying her eyes out, but it’s likely she didn’t cry the whole day.
At pick up time, get a report of how the rest of the day went and how your child coped. Ask questions like:
- How long did it take before she calmed down?
- What finally calmed her down?
- How did the rest of her day go?
You may find that your child stopped crying after a few minutes of you leaving, or that she had a good rest of the day and enjoyed the activities.
This is true when we leave our kids either at school or with babysitters. My husband and I will hear them crying as we leave only to to learn they stopped after five minutes and had a blast the rest of the evening.
Discuss your child’s emotions at home
Later at home, talk with your child about her feelings that day. Use words to describe her emotions, like, “You seemed sad when I dropped you off at school this morning.”
Allow her to express feelings she might have. Bring them up often so she can better identify feelings like scared, angry, hurt and worried.
And remind your child that it’s okay to miss you. Let her know you miss her as well and look forward to picking her up from school each day.
At the same time, discuss positive emotions she may have had during the school day as well. Yes, your child cried, but maybe she found new activities she liked or she played with a new friend.
Discussing emotions—whether happy or difficult—places labels on feelings she may just be starting to grasp.
Separation anxiety is normal
As guilty as I felt when my kids were sad or cried when I left, I reminded myself that this is normal.
We’re their parents, their world. A healthy attachment to her parents is usually the reason a child cries at drop off. Don’t feel like you didn’t do a good job because your child cries while others don’t seem to. Instead, revel in the strong parent child connection you’ve built.
It gets better
It does. Both of you will find a rhythm to your mornings. She’ll learn to love and trust her caregivers. You’ll feel more confident about letting go, and it also gets better with age. My son has now welcomed kindergarten as well as summer camp and adjusted well to both.
And listen to your gut. If nothing seems to work or your caregiver reported she cries the entire day, find solutions. Maybe that’s sitting in a few hours of the day to observe, or finding a facility or a new caregiver that better fits your child’s temperament.
Consider alternatives or talk with your child’s pediatrician. It helps to pursue other options until you and your child are comfortable.
More than likely though, time makes these difficult days pass. I remind myself that every old routine we’ve grown accustomed to was once a new experience.
For instance, you’ve gotten used to your job, but it was once a difficult learning curve when you first got hired. Your home, now so comfortable, had once been unfamiliar when you first settled in.
Any change will bring apprehension for parents and kids, but with time, even drop offs will be part of your new routine.
Morning drop offs can feel overwhelming, both for parents and kids, but we can take steps to ease the transition.
Keep drop offs positive and brief. Work with your child care provider to see how she adjusted the rest of the day. Discuss emotions with her in the safety of your home, and remind yourself that separation anxiety is normal and healthy.
In time, you’ll both adjust to your new normal, one with less tears and more confidence.
Get more tips:
- Help Your Child Transition to Preschool (and Calm Your Nerves as Well!)
- 6 Tips to Make Your Morning Routine for School Run Smoothly
- 6 Useful Back to School Tips for Parents and Kids
- More than Just PB&J: Vary Your Child’s Meals with These School Lunch Ideas
- 18 Sneaky Questions to Ask Kids about School
Tell me in the comments: How do you cope when your child cries at drop off?
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