Do you feel guilty and terrible about your child crying at school 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. He was even fine playing with toys, but as soon as he knew I heading out, he became inconsolable.
Meanwhile, I tried to pull myself together and head to work. Except my resolve doesn’t last and I felt miserable at my desk.
Drop offs officially became the hardest part of the day.
What to do about your child crying at school drop off
It seems many of us have all 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 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 deal when your child cries at drop off:
Keep drop offs pleasant but brief.
What’s your first reaction when your toddler cries at drop off? Maybe you run to comfort her until she quiets down and feels better. This would work when you’re spending the day together. But drop offs are different—you can’t be together. And lingering until your child stops crying is sending her mixed signals.
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 to go. When your child begins to cry, reassure her that she’s in good hands. And don’t freak out. When she sees you uncomfortable with the idea of leaving her, she’ll worry she isn’t in good hands.
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.
And stay positive. On What to Expect, the author writes:
Don’t let on that you’re worried or waiting for trouble at the preschool drop-off. Instead, appear completely confident that your child will separate easily — say good-bye cheerfully and matter-of-factly. Then walk out without a backward glance (tough, but necessary).
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.
But don’t use this as an opportunity to linger and keep the drop offs brief. But with an early arrival, at least your child will have extra time before most of the other kids show up.
Guide your child to her first activity.
Once your child has settled in, you or the teacher should lead him to an activity he enjoys. Our son liked squeezing sponges and using a baster to drip water into little containers. Don’t distract him to make your getaway so much as a chance to pique his curiosity and get him excited about the day.
As tempting as it may be to dash out the door without saying goodbye and avoid witnessing the tears, don’t. Your child will struggle even more at the next drop off. And she might spend the rest of the day anxious of where you had gone and why you didn’t say goodbye.
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 his eyes out. 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 he calmed down?
- What finally calmed him down?
- How did the rest of his day go?
You may find that your child stopped crying after a few minutes. Or that he had a good rest of the day and enjoyed the activities. I find this to be true when we leave our kids with sitters. We hear our kids 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. Say, “You seemed sad when I dropped you off at preschool 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. Yes, your child cried, but maybe she found new activities that drew her curiosity. Or she played with a new friend. Discussing emotions helps place labels on feelings she may just be starting to grasp.
Separation anxiety is normal.
As guilty as I felt whenever my kids would feel sad or cry when I’d leave, I reminded myself that this is normal. We’re their parents, their world. A child crying at school drop off is a sign that he has a healthy attachment to his parents. Don’t feel like you didn’t do a good job because your child cried. 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 he cried 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.
You’ve gotten used to your job, but it was once a difficult learning curve when you first got hired. Your home 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 our 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 your child adjusted the rest of the day. Discuss your child’s emotions with her in the safety of your home.And remind yourself that separation anxiety is normal and healthy.
In time, we’ll both adjust to our 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
Your turn: How do you cope when your child cries at drop off? Let me know in the comments!
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