With a new school year upon us, we all wonder how our preschooler will do with their first day of preschool drop-off. Some children will step into their new classroom without a glance backward. Others will approach their teacher and classroom with much more caution. The same can be said of all parents; drop-off time can be quite an emotional experience for both parent and child.
Here are some tips to help make your preschooler’s drop-off a little easier for all involved (including your child’s teacher).
It seems so simple, yet can be the hardest to do! Say goodbye to your child in your normal fashion (with a hug, a kiss, or a high five) let them know you will be back soon, and walk away. You can say something like, “This is your time to be at preschool and my time to run errands.” Try to refrain from showing distress or concern for your child; they will take notice of your anxiety. Even saying, “Everything will be okay” may make your child wonder if there is a possibility something wouldn’t be okay. Additionally, sneaking out when your child is not watching may also cause more anxiety for your child in the future. Present to your child what is true-you are leaving, but you will return. If your child cries, I promise you, it will only be for a couple minutes and then they will move on and be ready to start their preschool adventures for the day. In all of my years as a preschool teacher, I have only had two children who truly struggled with clinical separation anxiety. The rest of my students varied from no crying to a full out tantrum, but all recovered within just minutes of starting their preschool day.
Have a Routine
Preschoolers love routine. Tell your child the night before preschool, or when they first wake up in the morning, that today is a preschool day. Have a predictable getting-ready routine. Make sure your child eats a really great breakfast and has gone to the bathroom before coming to school; anything uncomfortable for your child could add to their emotions. Have a special high-five that you have taught to your child. They know when you do that high five at the preschool door, it means, “I am leaving now and you are going to have so much fun.”
Figure out if your child does better to be one of the first in the door or one of the last.
This really does matter for some children. Does your child prefer to enter a group of children who are already playing? Or does your child prefer to pick an activity when there is little already occurring in the room?
Consider who is dropping off your child.
If your child’s anxiety seems to be growing, try having a different adult drop off your child. Have that adult share with you how drop-off went. Maybe your child will do better with someone else dropping them off for a while. This says nothing about you and everything about your child; please don’t take it personally!
Bring a small comfort item.
If it is okay with your child’s teacher, your child may be comforted to keep a picture of your family or a favorite stuffed animal in their backpack. In my classes, I am always willing to let a child spend a minute checking out their comfort item in their backpack if they need the reassurance.
Trust your child’s teacher.
We have worked with many children over the years who have found it a little more challenging to separate from their parents or grandparents. It does not cause us anxiety to work with a child who is upset about coming to preschool. We have a bag of tricks. We are preschool teachers because we love working with 3-5 year olds. We know how to re-direct. We know how to soothe. If you are not seeing improvements after the first two weeks of preschool, ask to speak with your child’s teacher. They will probably be making the same observations and will appreciate your parental input to the situation.
Address your child’s emotions; don’t ignore them (before drop-off or after school).
One of the most powerful techniques I use when I have a crying preschooler enter my classroom is to get down at eye-level and say, “It looks like you are feeling very sad about leaving your mom (or whoever dropped them off).” I always say, “It looks like…” because I want them to decide if what I am saying is correct. Sometimes they will correct me and say something like, “No, I just fell down at home before I came.” But oftentimes, they will stop for a minute and then say, “Yes, I am sad. I want my mom.” This opens up a great conversation where the preschooler feels validated, safe, and knows I am helping them work out a solution. Talking with your child after preschool about the experience helps them know that you are aware this was a challenging experience for them. You can also help them remember that they recovered and had a great day at preschool. At our preschool, a child’s scrapbook is a great tool to pull out when having this discussion with your preschooler. You can talk about the fun things that your child has experienced at school and help to provide your child with positive thoughts about their time away from home.
There are times when you may see your child regress.
Extended periods of being ill, a big family transition (moving, death, divorce, etc.), or a very exciting week (the holidays, Halloween, etc.) can throw off a child’s emotional dial. Also, if you go on a family trip, expect to see some regression! Interestingly, the number one family trip that I have witnessed causes some irregular separation anxiety upon return is Disneyland. I guess Mickey Mouse is just too darn fun.
Try to be on time (or early) for pickup.
I get it! These are precious hours for you while your child is at preschool. But a child who especially struggles with drop-off will potentially have more increased anxiety about coming the next time if their parent was late to pick them up from preschool.
Be willing to give the situation a couple of weeks.
I tell all parents that it takes two weeks for everything to fall in place at preschool. There are a lot of moving pieces the first two weeks; each preschooler is learning the routine, meeting new friends, learning to trust their teacher, and much more. Most likely, separation anxiety will work itself out naturally during the first couple weeks of school.
So go enjoy your couple hours of freedom! Your child and their teacher has got this!