One of my kids had separation anxiety of the worst kind . . . for like five years. His school drop-off was pretty traumatic for all involved. My husband and I could hear his crying well into the preschool parking lot. His teacher was great and assured me that leaving quickly was the best solution to helping him get comfortable with school. (But I did wait in the parking lot until I couldn’t hear him crying. And I called the school about one million times during the day.) Lo and behold, he was fine. After a couple weeks of tearful goodbyes, he loved going to school.
As a side note, can I just tell you how thankful I am that we sent him to preschool and dealt with the separation anxiety then as opposed to when he went to kindergarten? Yes, he learned his letters and numbers. But probably more importantly, in preschool he learned how to be away from mom and dad for a few hours.
With my buddy’s little sister, I learned my lesson. And I did a much better job preparing her to go to preschool and be apart from mom for a few hours. So below are a few tips for preschool drop-off that helped my family. You too can learn from the error of my ways.
1. Recognize separation anxiety is normal at drop-off. Anticipate it. And affirm your child’s feelings.
No need to get stressed out. The experts will tell you that separation anxiety is a normal developmental behavior in many children. Recognize that it’s OK. And anticipate that it will happen to some degree. Of course, every child is different, and some will adjust to change faster and easier than others. But right expectations for both parents and kids can do wonders for our experiences. Certainly acknowledge your child’s feelings. He or she legitimately feels the way he or she feels. Affirm that it’s OK to be nervous or sad. Give them coping mechanisms for when they feel that way. (See some of those coping mechanisms below.)
2. Read books to prepare for the first day of school.
First of all, run, don’t walk to borrow or purchase “The Kissing Hand.” It’s about a little raccoon who’s scared to go to school, but because of a shared ritual with his mom raccoon, he can keep her with him all day long. (Cue tears here!) There are tons of other books you can check out from the library or buy that prepare your little students for that first day of school.
3. Give your child mantras they can recite to themselves when you’re away.
For my daughter, her mantra was “Mommy always comes back.” I taught it to her and reminded her of it. And when I picked her up she would say, “Mommy DOES always come back!” All credit for this idea goes to my parenting savior, Daniel Tiger. The episode “Daniel Goes to School” will save your life. In the episode “Daniel’s Babysitter,” the parents sing a song, “Grow-ow-n ups come back.” This is parenting gold, I tell you. If you’re not watching Daniel Tiger, you’ll want to add that to your preschool prep.
4. Create goodbye rituals.
So my daughter and I have a secret handshake. She insists we do it at bedtime and when we say goodbye. It helps reinforce that special bond we have that she doesn’t have with anyone else. Perhaps this ritual could be as simple as “See you later, alligator” and “After a while, Crocodile.”
5. Make goodbyes short at school drop-off.
Seriously, rip it off like a bandaid. Lingering about and wringing your hands and giving one more hug will only reinforce the crying and screaming. It will show your child that they get what they want if they cry or throw a tantrum. Prepare your child, affirm their feelings, do your goodbye ritual, give a hug and kiss, and then leave (gulp).
I’m happy to report that despite his rough school drop-off days, my little man is a healthy and well-adjusted ten-year-old. Despite the tears and possibly hard first days of school, you will be on the other side of this someday, mama. You got this!
If you haven’t yet found a preschool that works for your family, it’s not too late . . . even for this fall!
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