We’ve all seen it happen. A parent innocently dropping off their child for daycare, preschool or kindergarten. But the kid? He ain’t having it. What ensues is a heart wrenching moment with a parent who usually doesn’t know what to do as their child clings to them as if their life depends on it, not wanting to be left. Maybe you see this on a regular basis at your child’s school. Maybe that’s YOUR child.
First off, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Separation anxiety is a real thing and it’s completely normal for your child to experience it. It’s HARD growing up. Young children often get overwhelmed experiencing so many things and they don’t have the emotional maturity to process and handle everything. Rest assured that you will not have a Stage 5 Clinger by the time your kids are starting high school. This is just a phase and they will grow out of it.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that the RIGHT NOW is fun. It can be downright awful to dread school drop offs every morning, to walk away sweating from the exertion of pulling your child off you and swiping away tears as you trot back to the car. I’m sure you’re ready to try anything when it comes to getting a smooth drop off system down. I’ve talked to several parents of children who struggle with school drop offs and they’ve given me some of their best practices to ensuring a smooth school morning.
1. Get Excited & Prepare
The start of the school year can be scary, especially for a child who’s never been to school or is starting a new school. You may consider a two-pronged approach to handling your child’s anxiety by starting the discussion of school by talking about the positives- new friends, a fun teacher, and getting to learn new things. Take your child shopping for fun school supplies that they are excited to use. Then, ask them what they’re feeling about school. Let them bring up potential fears they have and then reassure them.
Even if you are several weeks into the school year, and still struggling with school drops off, keep the topic of school positive. As soon as you leave the house, start talking about fun things your child will do at school, how excited you are for them, or even something fun you will do together after you pick them up from school. Sometimes all they need is something to look forward to that will take the focus off that first part of the school day.
2. Start An Activity In The Classroom
I have several friends who have older children who still struggle with school drops off for transitional kindergarten. They tell me a helpful tactic to easing the situation is to enter the classroom with their kids and start them on an activity, such as coloring. They let the child get involved in what they’re doing (i.e. are distracted, but not completely immersed) and then go through your routine of saying goodbye. Experts say you shouldn’t leave your anxious child without telling them goodbye and reassuring them that you’re coming back later to pick them up. Even if it’s difficult for them to hear it at first, it’s better then them looking up and not knowing where you’ve gone because you snuck off- reaffirming their fear of being left at school.
3. Keep The Drop Off Process Brief
No matter your routine, the drop off process should be short and sweet. Don’t plan on staying for circle time or waiting until your child willingly lets go of your leg or stops crying. That may not happen if you are there (hint: it probably won’t). Your children’s teachers are well-trained and I guarantee you that you child is not the first to struggle with a drop off. Bring your child to the classroom, start an activity or go through your quick goodbye routine and leave. If you can’t get past the doorway, consider physically handing your child to your teacher. Don’t linger! Tell them you will be back after lunch, hug and kiss goodbye, and then high-tail it out of there. Don’t stand by the door or wait in the hallway. Your child will calm down and by the time you pick them up, they’ll be happy to see you, but most likely not in tears.
4. Bring A Comfort Item From Home
Depending on the age of your child, a comforting item may help the drop off process. Check with your child’s school on their policy of bringing things from home, but I’m willing to bet that most teachers of young kids will understand your situation and will allow a small item, such as a picture or small blanket or toy to accompany your child. Even if they just have it in their backpack, it can be reassuring to them knowing it’s there.
5. Keep At It
When you’re in the throes of yet another rough drop off, it’s temping to think “maybe my child is just not ready for school.” I get it. It’s exhausting and can sometimes be embarrassing, and above all it feels like your heart is breaking when you see your child crying for you as you walk away. But they will get through it! Every new day is a day in the books, where they are reassured that you ARE coming back for them. And hey, they probably had a little fun too!
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