School Drop-offs: Easy Peasy or Dreaded Disaster?

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Have a kid who struggles at drop-off times? Check out these ideas for help.

Transitions are hard for us.

For the past year or two, my now nearly six year old son had a hard time separating from me.  It didn’t matter if I was dropping him off with a friend or even leaving him with his dad while I went for an evening out.  There was nearly always a few minutes before I left in which he was uber clingy, whiney, and teary-eyed.  The worst, however, was when I dropped him off at school.

School Drop-offs: The worst punishment for your child since eating vegetables for dinner.
School Drop-offs: The worst punishment for your child since eating vegetables for dinner.

On good days last year, everything was fine leaving the house, on the drive in, and going into school. The closer we got to his classroom though, the slower his steps got. He got clingy and the whining started. On bad days, it started at home, with passionate pleas on how much he didn’t want to go to school. It continued on the drive in. The actual drop off was devoid of actual complaining, but instead had an onslaught of body clinging that would put an octopus to shame.  (One morning involved a full-on, writhing-on-the floor tantrum.  That was fun.  Nothing like putting your parenting skills on full display to start your day.)

I know with certainty this is how my child looks & behaves 2 seconds after I leave the school.
I know with certainty this is how my child looks & behaves 2 seconds after I leave the school.

Importantly, there was nothing wrong at school. His PK class was a tight knit group of friends, having been with each other since they were babies or toddlers. His teachers (and all the teachers in the school) are world class and he’s known them since he was a baby. And once he’s there (2 seconds after I leave), he has a great time. So much fun that pickup at the end of the day can be another challenge.

We had dealt with separation anxiety before — when he was much younger.  When it cropped up again, I was thrown for a bit of a loop.  Initially, we had to brute force it, with a teacher holding him while I left. No amount of distraction by other kids or activities — strategies that used to work — would make for a pleasant experience. We tried all of the usual strategies (like those found here and here).  Simply saying goodbye with a kiss & promise to see him that evening would not make things easier.  Letting him keep his taggy (or other beloved item) was a must, but not sufficient for an easy drop off. Quickly, however, we developed a goodbye ritual that almost always allowed him to separate easily.  A conveniently placed window and access to a small outside play area from his classroom allowed us to wave and blow kisses to each other after I left the building. When the weather was nice, he was allowed outside for a “fence kiss”.  To get him to the window/fence after saying goodbye, we always had a race to determine whose shoes were faster: his sneakers or my pumps/boots/flats.  (A couple of times, he let me win.)  The final piece to our drop-off puzzle was a reward.  My son earns stars for making good choices about his behavior, so easy-peasy drop-offs earned him more stars.  A quick race, a kiss through the fence, and some earned stars got us through 95% of the clingy drop-offs.

How I imagine my child looking at school drop-offs this year.
How I imagine my child looking at school drop-offs this year.

With the end of the school year and the beginning of summer camp, I was worried about changing up our process.  Rather than dropping off at his daycare, he took a bus to summer camp each day.  Transitioning each morning was still a bit of a challenge, but we established a few rituals to make it easier.  Quickly getting on the bus, waving through the window after he was on the bus, and blowing kisses as it pulled out of the parking lot was our summer ritual.  We’re making progress.

Kindergarten starts in a few weeks.  I have no idea what drop-off will entail or what rituals we will come up with.  He and I have starting talking about it a bit, prepping ourselves for the change.  I’m not so naive as to think it will be easy-peasy from the get-go.  But we’ve learned and grown a lot this past year (both of us!).  I’m optimistic that Kindergarten drop-offs will continue to get easier and easier.  When drop-offs are always easy-peasy, I know I’ll miss these days of him needing me constantly.  However, my pride at his independence and confidence will overshadow my nostalgia.

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4 comments

    • Emily says:

      Thanks, miratucci! We will persevere. :-) It always amazes me how similiar — yet also how different — siblings can be.

  1. Rebecca wiese says:

    Nice writing. I think by the time you drop him off at college there will be no tears. Do you remember Jonathan’s departure for Thailand?

    • Emily says:

      Yes, I hope so! Jonathan’s Thailand drop off is one of my favorite stories. He was such a cool cat that day.

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