Your child loves preschool. They have fun, they have friends, and they’re happy when you pick them up at the end of the day. In fact, they’ve had so much fun that they often don’t want to come home!
So why is drop-off a nightmare? Why does your child do any of the following?
- hanging onto you at the door of the classroom or school
- whining and complaining about you leaving
- yelling and screaming
- hitting you
All of these behaviors are distressing to you (and to the other children and their parents). It’s embarrassing. You start second-guessing yourself:
What are you doing wrong?
Is this preschool a bad fit for your child? Then why are they so happy when you pick them up? The teacher assures you that they are fine within a few minutes after you leave. So what’s up with that moment of transition from mom to school?
You just know that the teacher thinks you’re a terrible parent, no matter how polite she tries to be. How can you and your child get past this?
Have a Plan Tailored to Your Child’s Needs
There are many reasons children act this way, very few of which signal a deep-seated psychological problem! It depends on the child’s temperament, time of day, whether they’re a ‘morning person,’ how much sleep they got the night before….
What’s more important than the ‘why’ (sometimes) is helping them get over the hurdle, the transition from Home and Mom to School and Teacher.
To teach them how to transition more easily, you can remember that making that transition is simply a skill they haven’t learned yet. They aren’t making a fuss because they want to embarrass you or make your life difficult.
I’m going to give you a general strategy, then offer a couple of modifications for cases where a bit more fine-tuning is in order.
The 4-Part Drop-off
For all children, but especially for those who need a bit more structure for transitions like drop-offs, here’s a technique developed by the brilliant people at ConsciousDiscipline.com
This technique is called an “I Love You Ritual.” by the folks at Conscious Discipline and you can actually do them throughout the day with your child. They’re helpful for establishing connections with your child throughout the day.
They’re also very helpful for reducing stress and easing transitions, like preschool drop-offs. “I Love You Rituals” have these 4 elements
- Eye Contact
- Being Present
- In a Playful Situation
Here’s an easy I Love You Ritual in the preschool drop-off context.
When you get to preschool, get down on your child’s level. Look them in the eye as you hold their hands and guide them as you recite a favorite nursery rhyme (if your child resists having you guide their hands, you can place your hands under theirs and move your hands in the motions). Use a silly voice, make a silly face, or do something that makes it fun. Then end with hugs, tickles, etc.
That’s it! After a few sessions, they won’t need you to help them go through the hand motions.
One big aspect of this ritual is that you have to NOT be in a hurry. You need to be fully present for the very short time you’re performing the ritual. If you’re just going through the motions and your mind is on where you need to be next, the ritual won’t have the same power – and being present is very powerful. Very often, at the end of the I Love You Ritual, your child will be ready to detach from you and enter the classroom.
There are a couple of situations where your child may not be quite ready for the ritual alone.
Your Child Cries for an Extended Time after You Leave
Sometimes children aren’t quite ready to be dropped off and left at preschool. They will cry for an extended time (well beyond 10-15 minutes), and don’t calm for quite a while.
I once worked with a very smart mom at a cooperative preschool that her 4-year old attended. She had chosen the cooperative preschool because parents were required to work a few days a month in the classroom, and if you wanted to work more, all the better. So it wasn’t seen as out of the ordinary for her to be there every day.
This little boy needed to be physically attached to his mom for most of the time he was at school. However, he’d do all the activities that the other children did as long as she was beside him. He seemed very happy to be there.
After a few weeks he would allow her to be near him while he did all the activities, but he didn’t need her to hold him. Then he started to sit at the activities beside the other children with her in the room. After a couple of months, he was okay with her leaving after she sat with him at a center for a few minutes. Although his school experience was a little different than some of the other children, he learned, grew and made progress that year. His mom was comfortable with giving him all the time he needed to adjust and transition to school.
This is an extreme example of a sensitive child who needed the stability of his mother’s presence in order to explore new worlds. The following school year he happily attended a different school, leaving his mother behind as he entered the classroom.
Easing the Transition from Mom to School
The noise and busy-ness at drop-off can feel overwhelming to young children, and can contribute to the behaviors that moms and preschool teachers find so distressing. Sometimes a child needs a modified transition so that they can become comfortable with a new routine.
A mom I worked with had a child who fussed and cried at drop-off, so much so that the teacher suggested she drop her child at a different door, away from the others. It was quieter, and they could more quietly go through the “I Love You” ritual that they had practiced at home. After a few days practice, they were able to come to the regular door with the other children, go through the ritual and make the school transition easily.
The drop-off at preschool can be challenging, but with some problem-solving and patience it’s possible to ease that transition and make it work for everyone. Adding an “I Love You Ritual” is often just the right solution!
Have you had challenges at drop-off with your child? What was your experience? How did you solve it?
See you next time,