As a parent you have the innate need to protect your child from everything. Drop-offs can be hard for both the parent and the child. You are leaving your most prized possession with, sometimes, teachers you don’t know very well. It is even harder to do so when your child is crying, putting their arms out in hopes that you will come to them, swoop them up, and take them with you. In that moment they may be experiencing strong feelings about transitioning from the comfort of your presence to a room of adults and children, they may not be as familiar with. As I reflect on our toddler text I wanted to remind parents that separation anxiety comes and goes at all ages of the toddler years and that though it may seem unfortunate, this dropping off experience is critical for your child.
When you leave for a substantial amount of time and then you come back to pick your child up, your child learns (usually slowly), but surely that the separation from you doesn’t last forever. As I’m sure you’ve heard us say to your child to reassure them, “mommys and daddys always come back.” It’s important for your child to learn that sometimes you’re going to have to leave them, but that you are not abandoning them.
It’s imperative that you be clear when you’re leaving. Keep to your goodbye routine. Caring, short, but loving and kind. You read your book, give that generous hug and kiss, and your child is off to the goodbye window for their final goodbye. If you linger acting uneasy your child will pick up on that and it may scare them, and make them much more upset.
You must accept your child’s feelings as well as your own. Try to avoid saying “be good” –your child is allowed to cry and feel sad if you’re leaving and they still want to be with you or are feeling like they’re going to really miss you. When FD is having an emotional drop off her mom gives her a stuffed animal. Perhaps the animal says to FD, I know you’re feeling sad and I’m giving you this stuffed animal in acknowledgment. Talking with your child is of course helpful as well. Letting them know that you know they’re sad, but that you love them and you’ll be back or whatever you prefer to use as comforting words after acknowledgment of their feelings. You’re also allowed to have your own feelings. Maybe you’re nervous about leaving your child with a caregiver. Totally understandable. I tell the children how I’m feeling all the time (when I have an obvious basic emotional reaction I know they can pick up on). Example: It made me nervous when you threw that book. I was scared it might hit my body and hurt me.
Inform us of any underlying factors. They got a shot yesterday and are feeling sensitive today or they didn’t sleep well last night. These small tidbits of information are more helpful than you might think!
You all are experts at these steps to assure your toddler has the easiest drop off possible. I am so impressed! I know for most children drop off has become less of an emotional experience, but I feel it’s still important to one, put these reminders out there so we can continue to make the drop offs as painless as can be for your child (especially as our long winter break is approaching!) and two, you should be acknowledged for your patience, and persistence. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to leave your child in any state other than a happy one. I commend and appreciate you coming back every morning and helping yourself and your child navigate these new, very emotional experiences.