Drop off time with a child who is suddenly crying at school is heart-wrenching. Follow these simple best practices for tear-free school days.
“Come meet your new friends!” my son’s preschool teacher said. But he stood in place, head hung low, his eyes pointed straight to the ground.
We had just enrolled him into a new school—or school, period, because he had never gone before. And nothing was more heartbreaking than seeing him realize his new reality.
Because isn’t that just the worst feeling?
Maybe your daughter was fine the first few days of school, but now cries when you drop her off. She’s never really been with anyone but you, so every morning she cries that she doesn’t want to go to school. And while she eventually stops crying, she still cries all the way to school and especially when you leave.
Even if she’s in the same school with familiar teachers and kids, none of it matters because she’s still crying at school for random reasons.
You’ve tried consoling her, reminding her that you’ll pick her up, and you even make sure to wave at her as you walk away. Still, she continues to cry… and it’s getting worse every day.
You feel awful for putting her through that. You don’t want her to think you’re leaving her because you don’t want to be with her.
So, what gives? How can you help your child stop crying at school?
The key to helping your child stop crying at school
First, rest assured that your child’s behavior is common. Some kids cry, while others hop out of the car and hardly wave—both behaviors are normal. But I’ve learned that there’s one key tip we need to learn if we want our kids to stop crying at school, and it’s this:
Make your goodbyes quick and confident.
So, what does that mean?
First, don’t linger. We think that we’re helping our kids by staying a few extra minutes until they “settle in,” or caving in when they ask us for one more hug and kiss before we leave.
The problem with prolonging your goodbyes is that it sends the message that maybe your child shouldn’t be at school. That if you had it your way, she wouldn’t be here at all.
You’re also likely anxious, worried, and not confident about school. How do you think she feels when you profusely tell her that the day will pass quickly or tear up yourself at saying goodbye? Remember, you’ll see her in a few hours—she’s not traveling to another country for a month.
So, keep drop offs short and sweet, and avoid showing the anxiety you might be feeling. You’re helping her more by leaving with full confidence in the school and in her ability to cope with her emotions.
Best practices to help with school drop offs
That said, I’d like to share several tips that can make school drop offs smoother for both you and your child:
- Make sure your child is well-rested and fed. Nothing makes for a crankier school day than feeling tired and hungry.
- Prepare her on your way to school. Describe what she can expect at school and have her imagine the day unfold. Remind her that she can ask the teacher for anything she needs help with (for instance, she shouldn’t feel bad if she needs help using scissors). And talk about the fun she’ll have, especially with activities she can’t do at home.
- Bring a piece of home. Tape a picture of your family on her pencil box, or ask the teacher if she can keep a small stuffed animal in her backpack. When she feels anxious and scared, she has these familiar pieces of home to turn to.
- Talk about how she feels. Remind her that it’s okay to feel sad, but that she’s safe and loved in school. More importantly, you’ll come back to pick her up (tip: Make an extra effort to pick her up at the same time every day, so she never has a doubt that you will). Think of it as the perfect time for her to practice essential life skills like coping with emotions and being independent.
- Do something fun after school. Celebrate the first few days by doing something special that she can be excited about. Take her to the library, treat her to ice cream, or go to the park—anything to keep her mind excited while she’s in school.
Talk to your child’s teachers
Ask them if his behavior is out of the ordinary, how he fares the rest of the day, and the reasons he cries during school. Enlist their help with saying goodbye, or alert them to any fears and extra comforting they should address with him.
And ask them for their advice. They’ve been doing this for years and have seen all sorts of kids come and go. They can give you tips they’ve seen work with other kids that can work with yours.
No parent wants to see their child upset and crying at school. We all wish our kids took to school like a champ, but rest assured that your child’s behavior is normal and doesn’t make her any worse than the next.
We forget we’re dealing with children sometimes. It seems silly to us, but these issues are just as real to them as our grown-up problems are to us. As I say in my book, 31 Days to Better Parenting:
“Knowing her behavior is normal, though frustrating, will give you the patience you need. You won’t hold the same expectations from her as you would another adult. You feel reassured that her crying at school is actually normal for her age, and that she’s still learning how to manage her emotions.”
Instead, focus on keeping your goodbyes quick and calm. The more confidently you leave—and consistently come back—the more secure she’ll feel. After a while, she’ll start to mirror your behavior and feel just as good about school as you do.
Get more tips:
- 6 Back to School Tips for Parents
- Preschool Pros and Cons: Should You Send Your Child to Preschool?
- What to Do when Your Child Cries at School Drop Off
- How to Help Your Child Transition to Preschool
- 5 Tips for a Smooth Morning Routine for School
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