My son is about to start preschool and I was hoping you could give me some tips about how to handle leaving him there! He has never been in a group care setting and I’m not sure how he’s going to do when I leave. I have friends who say that their children cried every day for weeks when they started preschool!
What an exciting time! I understand your apprehension. It can be difficult to drop your child somewhere for the first time. I’m sure you’ve heard various reports from other parents about techniques that they used or the way that their children handled drop off time at preschool. Children can react in a wide variety of ways to experiencing care outside the home for the first time.
As you know, each child is an individual and so has his/her own unique reaction to each experience in life. Here, we will discuss a few of the typical responses, but know that there are many! Some children are so excited to be in a new place with a bunch of new materials and children their own age that they barely notice that their parent is leaving! They are involved and excited! This is wonderful for the child. Sometimes it is harder on the parent. Know that they love you and will miss you, but they are either too busy to notice it or they may be so secure in the knowledge that you will always come for them, that they aren’t upset. This is a good thing! For some children this is just how drop off goes and they are all-set right from the start. Sometimes, however, this excitement will last for a few days or weeks until the child realizes that this wasn’t just a special event; school is actually going to happen consistently. If this is the case and the “honeymoon period” wears off, the child might begin to cry or be upset a drop off for a while until they settle back into the routine.
Some children are upset at drop off initially. They are in a new place with all new people and might not feel totally sure about the environment. If this is your child, you might experience a hard drop off initially. Rest assured that the teachers are there to support your child. Usually you are welcome to spend a bit of time with your child in the classroom. Once you say that you are leaving, however, it is important to follow through even if you are met with resistance by your child. Let him/her know that you are going to leave for a while and that you (or whoever is going to pick up) will be back to pick them up. A hug or kiss and an “I love you” are great ways to say goodbye. Your child might play the “just one more” game. It is easier for you and your child if you don’t engage in this as just one more story, kiss or minute tend to turn in to five, ten, or fifty more stories, kisses or minutes! It can be very hard to walk away from your crying child. Stay strong! You can always call a few minutes later and have someone check to see how your child is doing. Usually children cry for a few minutes and then settle down with the teacher’s assistance and find something to do.
There are a few universal strategies that are important to keep in mind for all children. Keep your word. When you say you are leaving, say good bye and leave in a timely way. Do not sneak out of the room. It can be tempting if your child is involved in an activity to just leave without being seen. Your child will eventually notice that you have left and it is harder for them to realize this without you here. Saying goodbye and letting them know that you will see them later builds trust between you and will make things easier for future drop off times. They will see that you actually leave and do come back for them!
You know your child so you probably have some inkling of how you anticipate drop off might go. The best thing that you can do is talk to your child’s teacher about you concerns and your feelings about how things might go. The teachers are there to support you as well as your child! Many preschools have their own routines and tools in place to help with window. For example, the center where I work has good-bye windows in each classroom. These are windows that have a view of the parent parking lot. The children can go to these windows and have one last wave or high five as the parent is on his/her way out. Talk to your child’s teacher about the aides that they have in place. The more information you can leave with the school the better. Some schools have a sign in book that has a space to write in an approximate pick up time. It is helpful for the teachers to know approximately when your child will get picked up and by who so that they can let your child know if they ask throughout the day. For example, your child might be missing you during the day and if the teachers have that info, they can say something like, “We are going to go outside, then eat lunch and have rest and then Dad will be here!”
The biggest piece of advice I have is to hang in! It might be difficult but your child will get through it. The trust that is formed between you and your child from time away and coming back together can be very powerful. You and your child have a bond that can’t be duplicated elsewhere. Trust that the teachers know how to handle a multitude of situations and keep the lines of communication open between yourself and the school! Good luck!
Some children’s stories about starting school:
- Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
- First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
- The Hello Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka
- The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
- Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes