My Child is Still Crying at Drop -off, What Can I Do?
Many of us have been there, you did everything right, had a great morning and your child is well rested. You get to the door of the school, and BAM, your child clings to you and starts crying. You know your child is in good hands but leaving your child in distress is not easy for any parent! What causes some children to hold on for dear life and others to walk right in with a smile? What can you do to help your child feel at ease? Separation anxiety could be the cause of the teary goodbyes. The good news is that there are some things you can do to help your child deal with their anxiety.
So, what exactly is separation anxiety? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a form of anxiety experienced by a young child and caused by separation from a significant nurturant figure and typically a parent or from familiar surroundings.” “Separation anxiety is normal and happens as children begin to differentiate between things that are safe and familiar and things that are new and different.” It is usually characterized by clinginess, crying, refusing to go to school, wanting to be in the same room as their parent/caregiver, and can even cause sleep disturbances. Separation anxiety can occur at any time in a child’s life, and for many different reasons.
Let’s take a look at some reasons that can cause separation anxiety. Your child simply may need more time adjusting to the new routine and people. Some children naturally
take longer to adjust to new situations and people. In time most children will adjust, but some just take longer than others. A change at home can also be the culprit. Moving to a new home or a change in a parent’s work schedule, a new baby, or a sickness can cause your child to experience separation anxiety. Sometimes a child that has been happy at drop off can suddenly begin having difficulty separating. A vacation or other disruption to the daily routine can also be the cause. This can be especially true for kids that have never spent much time away from home.
If your little one is experiencing separation anxiety, there are things you can do to help them manage the anxiety. First, is to have a solid routine both for bedtime and in the morning. Be sure your child is well rested and well nourished. A child that didn’t get enough sleep or is hungry can have a drop off meltdown. Once you have routines in place try creating excitement for school. You can read books about going to school, and talk about all the fun, new things they will do at school. Talk to the teacher and find out how your child is doing after drop-off. Consider sending something to remind them of home, a bracelet, something that is yours, or soft object to keep in their backpack. Practice your drop off routine, role play with your child. Have a “goodbye” routine in place and stick to it, explain in advance what will happen and what you will do, then do it. For example, tell your child you will give her/him a hug and kiss then say goodbye and you will leave. You can make a “secret” handshake or make your goodbye two hugs and one kiss. Anything that is consistent and the same each time will help. Keep it short and sweet, don’t stay longer than necessary. If you try some of these strategies and your child is not responding, try talking to your child about what is making them feel worried or afraid about school or other new situations.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood. The times that we are living in right now in 2020 are unlike any that we have seen in recent history. Anxiety is on the rise with all the shelter in place and new mandates with masks and social distancing. These things can and might be confusing to children and can contribute to their anxiety overall. Many children spent almost 90 days with just their family members and that alone can make going back to school or any routine difficult. Virtual learning has now left older siblings at home with mom and dad while younger children are coming to school. This can also be the cause of crying at drop off because they may feel they are “missing out” on being at home. Again, this is normal and something that should resolve over time.
Remember, your attitude and own anxiety can be felt by your child. Try to remain calm and steady during your drop off routine which will help your child begin to feel secure about being separated from you. There are some children that will continue to have difficult drop-offs straight through to kindergarten and that is normal if they are calming down quickly once you leave. Almost every child will eventually grow out of it at some point. Remember, if it becomes disruptive to life and your child is not able to calm down after you leave it might be a good idea to talk to your pediatrician.
What to Expect. (2019, January 15). Crying at Drop-Off – Perfecting the Preschool Separation. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.whattoexpect.com/toddler/starting-preschool/problems/drop-off.aspx
Crying at School Drop-Off: 12 Tips to Cope with Back to School Anxiety. (2018, May 11). Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.merakilane.com/crying-school-drop-off- 12-tips-cope-back-school-anxiety/
Couch, C. (2020, August 20). How to Handle Separation Anxiety Meltdowns in Kids. Retrieved September 24, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/20/parenting/separation-anxiety-children.html