You've spent months finding the perfect daycare or preschool. It's a wonderful place with kind and loving caregivers, an abundance of toys, lots of new friends, and a great play yard. Then . . . your child cries and clings to you when you drop her off, and it breaks your heart. What can you do?
Understand the significance of the milestone
Heading off to daycare or preschool, and leaving Mommy or Daddy behind for the first time is a colossal milestone in a child's life. There is no way to predict which child will happily run off to play and which will take one look at the surroundings and superglue himself to a parent's leg. If yours is one of those superglue kids, here are some ideas to help him loosen his grip and enjoy his new experience.
Have a very specific morning routine
Children feel more assured when their life has a very predictable rhythm. Set up a specific routine for the beginning of his day, since how the morning starts can set a pattern to the day. Waking at the same time seven days a week and then following the same routine for getting dressed, having breakfast and early morning playtime can get your child started with a calm feeling that "today is normal."
Encourage friendships with home playdates
Set up a few playdates with one or two children from the group at your home. Plan ahead, and have a craft and a snack ready, since some kids will find a session of free-play difficult to navigate. Once you've had a few successful sessions at your home, branch out to a playdate at a friend's home.
These playdates that occur away from school allow children to develop a more personal friendship. Having a deeper friendship with another child or two at the daycare center or classroom can create more security for your child when he's away from home during the day.
Coordinate arrival with other families
If you can, coordinate your daily walk or ride to school with another family. Set up a carpool and offer to drive the kids together. If you can't arrange to walk or ride to school with a friend, then set up a meeting place at school to connect.
Try to meet at the front gate, flagpole or entry door so that you can all walk a short distance together. Having a friend to walk with into the building can change the dynamics of the drop-off routine dramatically.
Stay calm when your child is anxious
When other adults are waving goodbye to their confident children, and your little one is crying and clinging to you for dear life, it's easy to become flustered. It's that time, however, when your child desperately needs you to be calm and reassuring.
Put on blinders and tune out the other parents and children so that you can focus on your child only. You can be most helpful when you convey your peaceful demeanor to your child.
Create a project for together-time
Some children resist going to school because they see it as the end of your days of playtime together. Show your child that it isn't the end - just a change in routine.
Set up an ongoing project you can work on for a short time each day to help bind the two of you together. You can refer to this project when dropping your child off so she has something to look forward to.
Spending even fifteen minutes on this when you arrive home makes it the focus for a lovely bonding opportunity. Good ideas for these projects are puzzles, crafts, hobbies, gardening, or reading a book series together.
Excerpt: "The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution: Gentle Ways to Make Good-bye Easy from 6 Months to 6 Years" by Elizabeth Pantley.
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of the bestselling No-Cry series, including the classic book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution. She is president of a parent education company and a mother of four. Visit her website at www.nocrysolution.com.