Ages + Stages | Parenting Tools

Should I Stay or Should I Go: Ending Drop-off Drama

dropoffsAs each school year starts, I watch parents and children struggle with morning drop-offs. Children are in tears; parents shift rapidly between both anger and guilt. Parents are ready to start their own day and, after the first few days of challenging drop-offs, are beginning to lose patience. At the same time, they are often feeling guilty about leaving children who are upset.

I have had my own fair share of challenging drop-offs over the years. The worst was when I was early in my second pregnancy, and my 2-year-old had just started preschool two mornings a week. She cried, I cried; yet finally the teacher, bless her, made me leave. I looked back only to see my daughter pounding on the window saying, “Don’t leave me!” I was sure that I was dooming her to years of therapy due to severe abandonment issues. I spent the next three hours contemplating my failures as a mom and nursing doubts about my ability to handle two when I couldn’t handle one.

And then I went to pick her up. Her teacher, skilled with first-time parents such as myself, let me know my daughter had stopped crying approximately 20 seconds after I drove away. From then on, she was a happy camper. My daughter greeted me with smiles and hugs, excited to tell me about her morning at school. It was as if the drop-off from Hell hadn’t even happened for her. Well, I was sure glad I worried about that one all morning!

Yes, transitions are hard. Drop-offs can be filled with intense emotions. Nevertheless, there are ways we can make it easier for all. If the school year has been filled with disaster drop-offs, take a look at these tips to ease the stress for all.

1) Believe in your child, check in with yourself.
The biggest thing parents can do is to manage their own anxiety around the transition. Kids often do fine in new environments, with new routines and schedules. It’s we parents who tend to stress about it. Our children often pick up on that stress and this can make the adjustment harder for them. It’s not only okay, but perfectly normal, to feel nervous about a new school or sad about how fast your child is growing. Find support for yourself so you can be present for your child’s emotions.

2) Visit and talk about school ahead of time.
Most schools will be happy to have you visit with your child before he or she starts. Even driving or walking by a few times and pointing it out can be helpful. Reading books about school and talking with your child about what they can expect will help them be ready for that first day.

3) Let your people go!
It’s tempting to stick around hoping your child will stop crying. It’s also tempting to sneak out thinking that will be easier for your child. However, neither of these strategies works well. The long drawn-out goodbyes increase the anxiety in our children, and the quick sneak-out plays in to their greatest fears about being left. Instead, create a goodbye ritual with your child, give those last hugs and kisses and tell them you can’t wait to see them after school. Then leave!

As was the case with my own child, I have watched many children stop crying within seconds of their caregiver leaving. It’s the actual separating that can be hard for children. Once they know they are staying, they usually jump right into the fun. Keep in mind that teachers are amazingly skilled at handling these transitions and can often do their job better once you are on your way.

Remember this is a transition. As I discussed in Easing In, giving your child and yourself time to adjust is essential. It may be bumpy, but your ability to stay calm and model persistence will go a long way to helping your child do the same.

About the author
Sarina Behar Natkin LICSW is a parent educator and consultant in the Seattle area. She co-founded GROW Parenting to provide parents with the tools and support they need to raise healthy children and find more joy in parenting. GROW Parenting offers parent coaching and classes and frequently speaks at area schools and businesses. Check out GROW Parenting's blog for more great tips on common parenting issues and Facebook for the latest news in parent education!

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