Saying ‘Goodbye’ with Confidence at Child Care or Preschool
You spent months finding the perfect day care or preschool. It’s a wonderful place with kind and loving caregivers, an abundance of toys, lots of new friends and a great play yard. But when you drop your child off, she cries and clings, breaking your heart. What can you do?
Heading off to day care or preschool and leaving Mommy or Daddy behind for the first time is a colossal milestone in a child’s life. There is no way to predict if your child will happily run off to play, or take one look at his surroundings and glue himself to your leg. If your child is equipped with glue, here are some ideas to help him loosen his grip and enjoy this new experience.
Have a specific morning routine.
Children feel more assured when their life has a predictable rhythm. Set up a specific routine for the morning to establish a pattern for the rest of the day. When your child wakes up at the same time seven days a week, then follows the same routine for getting dressed, having breakfast and enjoying some early morning playtime, he’ll start the day calmly feeling that “today is normal.”
Encourage friendships with home play dates.
Set up a few play dates at your house with one or two children from the group. Plan ahead and prepare a craft and snack, since some kids will find a session of free play difficult to navigate. Once you’ve hosted a few successful sessions at your home, branch out to a play date at a friend’s home. These play dates away from school allow children to develop a deeper, more personal friendship with another child or two at the day care center or classroom, which can create more security for your child when he’s away from home during the day.
Coordinate your arrival with other families.
If you can, coordinate your daily walk or ride to school with another family. Set up a carpool and offer to drive the kids together. (Be sure you have a car seat for each child.) If you can’t arrange to walk or ride to school with a friend, establish a meeting place at school to connect. Meet at the front gate, flagpole or entry door so you can all walk a short distance together. Walking into the building with friend can dramatically change the dynamics of the drop-off routine for your child.
Stay calm when your child is anxious.
When other adults are waving goodbye to their confident children and your little one is crying and clinging to you, it’s easy to become flustered. That’s the time, however, when your child desperately needs you to be calm and reassuring. Put on blinders and tune out the other parents and children so you can focus only on your child. You can be most helpful by conveying a peaceful demeanor to your child.
Create a project for time together.
Some children resist going to school because they see it as the end of your playtime together. Show your child it isn’t the end, just a change in the routine. Start an ongoing project you can work on for a short time each day. You can refer to this project when dropping your child off so she has something to look forward to. Spending even 15 minutes on this when you arrive home makes it the focus for a bonding opportunity. Puzzles, crafts, hobbies, gardening or reading a book series together are good ideas for these projects.
This stage, like so many others in childhood, will pass. You are your child’s best coach on getting through this milestone. In time, your child will learn she can separate from you, you will return, and everything will be fine between those two points in time. Much of this learning is based on trust and experience, which, just as for any age, takes time to build and brings great rewards at the end. n
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of 10 books for parents, including The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution, which is part of the No-Cry Solution series.