Daycare Drop-Off: A Guide to Happier Goodbyes

Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

Some children bound into a new classroom without a backward glance. But many others are, understandably, a little more nervous about starting a new school with new friends and new teachers. It’s not only children who have a hard time parting ways for the day: The morning daycare drop off can be hard on adults, too.

Luckily, our teachers and staff have a lot of experience with supporting children during the first days at school. (We’ve also provided reassurance and support to many, many parents.) Here are some positive ways to say goodbye at school that will help put everyone at ease. Because when your child is happier, so are you.

1. Try a Daycare Drop-Off Practice Day

Speak with your Center Director about scheduling a drop-in day or partial day shortly before you return to work. This gives you and your child a chance to test out spending time apart. This also allows you to focus on their needs (and your own feelings) without the added pressure of having to get to the office.

2. Take Care of Your Own Feelings

If you’re anxious about leaving, your child may start to feel anxious as well. During these early days, think about ways you can ease your own worries about the daycare drop off: Talk with friends or other parents with young children, go to the movies, or go for a walk. Of course, you may still get a little teary-eyed at school drop-off, and that’s totally fine and completely normal: We get it.

3. Be an Early Bird at School Drop-Off

Some children do best when a parent limits the amount of time spent saying goodbye. Other children want the reassurance of a parent’s presence in the classroom until they feel more comfortable. Find what works for you both, and if your child needs more time, arrive early to help them adjust to the transition.

Photo by David Hume Kennerly
Photo by David Hume Kennerly

4. Focus on Your Child

In the bustle of daycare drop-off—unloading diapers, delivering daily instructions, depositing an extra sweater—it’s easy to get distracted. At drop-off, take a little time to focus your attention on your child. Get down at their level and be with them before saying goodbye. This can help them relax and ease their fears.

5. Discover the Classroom Together

Commenting with enthusiasm about the children’s artwork on the wall, the sand table, or warmly greeting teachers and other children communicates to your child that school is a fun and exciting place. If you are curious and positive, it encourages them to do the same.

6. Be Aware of Adding to the Separation Anxiety

Slipping away while they’re not looking can actually add to separation anxiety in toddlers. They can become more anxious if you suddenly disappear and they can’t find you. Let your child know you are leaving and that you will be back. Be clear and matter-of-fact: I’m going to leave in five minutes and go to work. I’ll come back and pick you up after you’ve eaten lunch.

7. Acknowledge Their Feelings

Children show emotion through crying, and it’s normal for them to do so. Acknowledging their emotions is an important part of helping them cope with morning transitions. You might say: I see that you’re sad that I’m leaving. I will miss you, too. I’ll be back to pick you up after you have recess this afternoon.

8. Talk About the Good Stuff

Remind your child of the fun things they’ll do that day. Wow! You’re going to paint at the easel today! What do you think you’ll paint? Talk them through the classroom schedule. Routines are comforting for young children, and their worries at school will lessen as they learn what to expect.

9. Ask for Advice About Daycare Separation Anxiety

Your child’s teachers and Center Director have helped many other families just like yours. As the teachers get to know your child, they can direct them to a favorite activity that will help them settle more easily into the classroom. Center Directors can offer advice if your child needs more support. Be patient as you and your family find your way.

10. Call Us

Feel free to check in to see how your child’s day is going. Moments after you leave, they may be completely engrossed in building a block tower. Call us! Chances are that they’re doing well, and you’ll have a better day knowing they are having a good day.

If you have had tough transitions, remember that it gets better! Try and have patience—and stay positive—while everyone adjusts. And don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re always happy to talk with you about your concerns so that everyone can have a great drop-off. A few weeks from now, you will walk into the classroom and your child will wriggle out of your arms, ready to start the school day. You are not alone, and you’re doing great.

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