It’s the fear of every working parent. You’re walking into the child care center with your precious little one in tow…smiling all the way to the classroom. Suddenly, your perfect angel becomes a cling-on of epic proportions. Arms (and possibly legs) wrapped around your leg, face twisted into an unrecognizable distortion of your darling toddler, and guttural screams emanating from somewhere deep inside that tiny human body.
Ok, maybe it’s not really that bad. Or maybe it is. Maybe your sweetie just clings a little. Or cries softly…which might be even worse because the guilt factor is then multiplied by the fact that it is not a tantrum, it is genuine sadness. No matter how great or how small the struggle, it’s still a struggle. It’s one that leaves parents feeling horrible. That’s not a fun way to start your workday. Here are some tips that will help you and your little one have smooth and happy mornings.
DON’T…try to distract your child and sneak out. That might relieve you from seeing the painful reaction but it won’t stop the child from acting out as soon as she realizes you’re gone. It also breaks her trust in you. Don’t do it.
DO…spend a few minutes helping your child transition into her classroom. If the group is involved in one activity, such as the teacher reading a story, bring your child over to the group. Try to sit for a moment while she settles in and feels comfortable. If the children are playing throughout the room, help your child find an activity and get her started. Once she’s engaged, you can depart appropriately (more on that in a minute).
DON’T…throw him in the teacher’s arms and run. (You’re laughing but it happens!)
DO…bring him to the teacher, have a very brief conversation with the teacher yourself, and let your child warm up to the idea of transitioning to the teacher. Of course, you don’t want to interrupt the teacher who is engaged with the group, but teachers typically try to make sure they are available to help during busy drop off times.
DON’T…let yourself run so late that you don’t have time to help your child with the transition.
DO…have an established morning routine and follow it. Every. Day. Children love structure. They love consistency. They love predictability. Ever wonder why Junior can watch the exact same episode of Doc McStuffins 4,379 times? It’s because he loves the familiarity of it. He knows exactly what to expect and that makes him happy and helps him make sense of his world. Do the same things, in the same order, at the same time, every morning. Talk about it while you do it. “First we’ll eat breakfast, then brush your teeth, then get dressed, and then it’s time to go.”
DON’T…linger so long that your child gets too comfy and starts to think you belong there, too.
DO…talk with your child as you help her transition. “Some of the children are playing with blocks. Would you like to do that? I can come build with you for a minute, then I have to go to work.” Briefly accompany your child, give one warning (“I have to go to work in about two minutes”) and then leave with one last hug and kiss.
DON’T…use bribery or false promises. Bribery includes statements such as, “I’ll bring you candy when I pick you up if you stop crying.” False promises include statements such as, “I’ll pick you up early today if you stop crying.”…when you know, in fact, you have a 3:00 pm meeting that won’t allow you to pick up early.
DO…let your child know exactly what to expect. “After you wake up from nap, you’ll have snack, then go outside, and then it’s time for me to come pick you up. I promise I will be here around the time you’re playing outside.” Acknowledge his feelings. “I know it makes you sad when Mommy leaves. I miss you during the day, too. I promise I will think about you during the day and I can’t wait to finish work and come pick you up.”
DON’T…be embarrassed or think your child must be the only one who behaves this way. We are used to it. We understand separation anxiety and we want to help so everyone has happy mornings.
DO…understand that this is temporary. All children adjust eventually. Sometimes it takes a day or two. Sometimes it can take much longer. Just keep being consistent and, at some point, you will suddenly realize that your morning drop-off is much more smooth.
For really serious tantrums, it can require the teacher physically holding/hugging the child who is still screaming as you walk away. If you’ve tried all the tips above and your child is still struggling with the transition, just reassure her that you love her, you’ll be back, and walk away. Almost every time this happens, the child has settled down by the time the parent reaches the car in the parking lot.
Separation anxiety is frequently harder on the parent than it is on the child. The child gets over it quickly yet Dad spends half his day at work wondering if his little one is ok. If it’s really bothering you, call the center and check. We don’t mind one bit! If your center has a problem with that, reevaluate whether this center is a good fit for your family.
Finally, it should help you to remember this: Separation anxiety occurs because your little one has a great bond with you. He really cares whether he’s going to see you again. He wants to be with you. He loves you. Help him form a strong bond with his teachers and child care center. It absolutely will not replace the bond he has with you, but it will help him feel comfortable knowing that he is safe until you return at the end of the day.
P.S. Child care providers highly dislike the term ‘daycare’. To most of us, it makes us think of glorified babysitting where very little attention is given to child development and learning. I used it in the title of this blog post because I am a geek and I like alliteration.