Suggestions for preschool drop off?
September 5, 2011 7:20 AM   Subscribe

The big pre-school drop off? Suggestions from the hive welcome.

My 2.75 year old is a special snowflake starting 3 morning a week preschool this Friday. Suggestions on how to make this go well are welcome.

After some bad experiences with school and social activities in the past, I'm worried about how drop offs are going to go. I acknowledge that he may completely surprise me and go willingly. But knowing him, it is a decent possibility that he will be very upset when I leave.

Friday, the first day, parents are welcome to stay for the whole day (9am-1pm). Then on the following Monday, I'm the "class parent" -- which is good, because I'd bet that he'd prefer me to stay. Although it'll be hard for me to do my class duties with him on my legs. The next Wednesday I'm not class parent, so I'll have to "leave him" there.

The school:
- He'll be among the youngest in this preschool (he turns 3 in mid-November, most of the kids are 3 and change.)
- It is a co-op but there is a well-regarded teacher who is assisted by a class parent daily.
- There are 8 kids in his class, but one day a week the classes are combined so there will be ~16 kids.
- As far as I can tell, many of the other kids are going to this preschool straight out of being at home with a stay-at-home-mom and few have been in daycare settings. (Thus there might be other kids with separation anxiety.)

His school background:
- Kiddo was in an awesome daycare until age 2, then we moved and he started a new daycare that was a total failure. It sucked and it created a huge fear of "school" in him. (Screaming "no school" if we merely drove near the place.)
- For the past 9 months, he's been in a nannyshare in our home with 1-2 younger children. Our awesome nanny has really been working with him on his social skills.
- We've been talking school up all summer. He's gone from hating it to being more open to it, but every time we talk about it recently he insists that Mommy or Daddy will be coming to school with him.
- We've tried to play on the school's playground fairly regularly and now when we walk there he says "my school!"
- He plays well with his nannyshare buddies, but in general he is very anxious/shy around other kids and would rather hide between Mommy's legs.
- He doesn't enjoy sitting still for activities (ex. when we go to see a kid's singer perform, he doesn't like dancing, doesn't want to sit and listen, and is very hesitant to play with other kids.)

- We've always practiced semi-attached parenting.
- I have been incredibly busy for the last year and the last 9 months especially. He doesn't get to spend enough time with me (Mommy) and it shows in his strong attachment to me.
- He has a speech delay. He is talking, but not at the level of other kids his age. People that are not with him regularly don't understand him very well. He also clams up around people that are not Mommy, Daddy, or Nanny.
- Because of the shyness and speech delay, he is a poor self-advocate. He won't tell strangers that he has a poopy or that he's hungry.
- Not potty trained.

I know that many will say "just leave him" -- and I'm willing to try that, but based on our experience 9 months ago, he didn't eventually chill out.

In writing this, I realize that I should probably call his teacher on Tuesday and tell her all of this. But in the meanwhile, any suggestions from the parents of AskMe?
posted by k8t to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not a parent but have there been kids from the preschool when he's at its playground? Will any of the nannyshare kids be attending? Has he met the teacher?

I had an experience babysitting in which a little girl sobbed uncontrollably after her parents left....until Sha-Na-Na came on TV. INSTANT change of mood.
posted by brujita at 7:36 AM on September 5, 2011

@brujita - He met the teacher once. He also met the other kids in his class twice. He was pretty shy about playing with them on both occasions. We live in a very large city (with dozens of preschools in our neighborhood), so it would be a total coincidence if we encountered one of his classmates in public.
Nannyshare kids are much younger (one is a year younger, one is a year and 1/2 younger). And sure, while babysitting, turning on the TV as a distraction from mommy/daddy leaving is a fine strategy. I'm looking for more permanent of a solution.
posted by k8t at 7:43 AM on September 5, 2011

All kids are different, but based on our experiences: (a) talk to the teacher ahead of time and come up with a strategy together (b) kids pick up on your anxiety so try to keep an attitude of "this is a big deal and will be great fun but it's nothing we're wasting time worrying about" and (c) as hard as it is, at the end be prepared to rip off the band-aid and go. Good luck. This ain't easy.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 7:46 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mine is 3.5, but he's been in daycare for most of his life, so I've watched several kids who have had rocky transitions into a daycare situation. It is true that the hardest cases are ones who are coming from a private or semi-private care situation. Some of them still cling at dropoff time, though not consistently. The ladies at my son's excellent daycare, all of whom have at least an AA in early childhood development as well as years and years experience, definitely share a technique. It's not a quick dropoff, but it is a structured dropoff.

Over the course of a week, the length and number of activities that the parent participates in decrease, and the child is informed in advance what that will be. "Daddy will stay for circle time, outside time, and snack today. Tomorrow you'll have snack by yourself." Typically the first day or two is short, with a late dropoff and early pickup. By the fifth day the goal is a "normal" dropoff. There's lots of distraction, asking the child to help, giving them choices of activities, etc.

Even with all this technique and experience, there are still kids who cry pretty much all the time, all week. It's just tough for them. What I can say is that by the second week things have, universally, been much better. Hope this helps, and good luck.
posted by wnissen at 7:46 AM on September 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm actually a bit worried about the fact that you're not only having a parents' day, but then you're also participating as the class parent the next day. Yes, he'd prefer you to be there at all times, but it might really confuse him when you actually do leave.

I'm not suggesting that you not go through with the current arrangement or anything, but brace yourself for the epic meltdown on the first day you do leave.

As someone who's always been on the other side of the situation, where I'm the one handling the meltdown when kiddo wants mommy, let me BEG YOU to please make the goodbye short and sweet. Don't sneak out when he's not looking, but don't linger - it'll just make him more upset because he knows you're leaving. Pull the bandaid off quickly. Hug him as he sobs, kiss him on the cheek, repeat at 3 times, "Mommy is coming back to get you after school," and then go go go. He might have a sucky time for the first few drop-offs, but if he knows that you leave no matter what emotional state he's in AND you always come back at the end of the day, he'll adjust much better. Really try to be sunny and empathetic, and don't let him know how nervous you are (you sound nervous, btw, which is totally normal!) to leave him alone.

Also, talk a lot in the interim about school, specifically about how after parents day and your turn as parent-helper, you're going to go to work and he'll be with all his new friends. It will probably help him to watch the older kids wave bye bye to their moms and dads.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:49 AM on September 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

@zoomorphic, I actually had asked not to be scheduled for Mondays overall and they went ahead and scheduled me anyway, and that included the very second day of class.

I know that of all the parents I have the most inflexible regular schedule (and I have a ton of travel this fall, further complicating things), so I'm nervous to ask the schedule to change things around so that I'm not the class parent for the second day.
posted by k8t at 7:52 AM on September 5, 2011

Your child care situation is 'awesome,' your 2yo does not want to attend preschool, your 2yo is pretty definitely not the sort of neglecterino who does really benefit from a preschool... I would test the waters for three days, and then if it doesn't go well on the Mummyless third day, just scrap the idea for a year and then ask if he wants to go. It sounds like there are some arguments against him being in preschool; the residual issues from the bad day care, and, if he's struggling with speech, the more time he can spend with a minimally distracted adult (eg, nanny) the better, and, well, he doesn't even want to go. I am admittedly confused as to why you've signed him up for this?

I grok 'well-regarded teacher' and other selling points here, and that may work out -- the right sort of warm, grandmotherly type in that position can be great for a kid (would that they were not so rare!) -- but I think if he doesn't immediately warm to the teacher, cut your losses before it's a full-blown bad-daycare-again! experience. My answer would be quite different if he was really jumping at the bit to be around other kids.

The speech issues are...troubling, for this. I would not have fun being dropped into a crowd of people who I couldn't communicate with, and while sink-or-swim works for a lot of stuff in childhood, I'd be wary of how well it would work for a fearful child with minimal interest in playing with strangers (again, next year will probably be a different deal).

Right now I am working on how to talk to my kid about 'people who are different' &c because last night I watched her with some Playmobil figurines; they were her (4), and two brothers down the street that she plays with, 4 and 7. The 4yo boy has some speech issues; doesn't say much and when he does we often can't understand. "Hello, John!" said my daughter. "Hello, Hername!" said the Playmobil 7yo. "Hello, Will!" said my daughter. "Mbwah mbwah hroo," mumbled the Playmobil 4yo. She had said she was frustrated and didn't like playing with him because she couldn't understand him; I should have taken that as the cue to talk about compassion, I guess. Anyway, 3-in-Nov is still pretty young and I would bet that most if not all of these issues will sort themselves out by next year, so pulling him if it doesn't go smoothly and trying again later, maybe even after Xmas, really wouldn't be any sort of failure.

FWIW I have never done this (and am thankful for circumstances that let me), this sort of -- 'rip off the bandage' is a good way to put it -- and am always puzzled by the 'it's good for 'em' thinking on this, that lots of tears and anxiety are a normal way to approach new experiences in childhood and they just need to get over it. We will be slightly behind on getting going with the rest of swimming lessons because we are not up to the level of no-parent-in-the-water swimming lessons, etc; this is cool, we always get there in our own time, kid is very very self-assured, happy, confident, outgoing. I don't buy into 'just leave him.'
posted by kmennie at 7:53 AM on September 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Maybe I should be very explicit that "Mommy is in your class today, but Joshua's Mommy is going to be here on Wednesday and Stella's Mommy is going to be here on Friday. Every class, a different kid's Mommy is here to help Teacher."
posted by k8t at 7:53 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

@kmennie - yeah, we're open to the fact that if it isn't working out that we'll have to reorganize something.

But while we've liked the past 9 months with our nanny, for a variety of reasons (awesome nanny is leaving us for a career and I'm leaving my intense full-time job to work flexible part-time to spend more time with kiddo - which will only work if we don't have massive childcare costs), staying with the status quo won't be possible.

So, worst case, if preschool doesn't work out at all, we'd have to find some some of part-time childcare so that I could get some work done.
posted by k8t at 8:00 AM on September 5, 2011

The Kissing Hand is a very sweet book about the first day of school - basically, when you kiss your child goodbye, you give him a kiss in his palm to save "for later".

He also may be reading your own (hard to avoid) stress about the situation, which can make him more stressful as well. You may only be worried that he won't separate well, but he can translate that to "mommy looks funny - something bad must be about to happen." The calmer and more no-nonsense you can be about leaving the school, and just leaving the room - which you should do for longer periods of time over the course of the first day, so he gets used to being there without you - the easier it should be for him. Same goes for when you return to the school (or the room) - no drama, no huge hugs. Try to be matter of fact.

Good luck!
posted by Mchelly at 8:01 AM on September 5, 2011

Can someone else drop him off in the morning (not the first week or two, of course!)?

When my oldest was 2 and 3, we carpooled with a neighbor; I dropped them off in the mornings and she picked them up. There were no problems, no crying, when I dropped them off, but my neighbor's son would cry on the days we had to switch and one of his parents dropped him off.
posted by ellenaim at 8:04 AM on September 5, 2011

@ellenaim, unfortunately not. His dad leaves for work before 7am and school starts at 9.
posted by k8t at 8:08 AM on September 5, 2011

I would keep him home until he was 3 and change like the other kids. My mom teaches pre-k, and boys who arrive in September under 4 almost always repeat the year anyway.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:20 AM on September 5, 2011

I agree with kmennie in that you should allow yourself the flexibility to pull him out if he doesn't do well. It sounds like he might just not be ready, and that's OK. If he enjoys it, great. If he fights it and hates being left, then the goals of preschool (socialization, learning to follow directions and be in a group environment) probably aren't going to be achieved.

My kids have been in day care since infancy, and the rule at our day care has always been that the kid should stop crying a few minutes after mom and dad leave. Kid#1 had a hard time at dropoffs at this age (roughly 2.5-3.5), and I would stand outside the classroom door and wait until he stopped crying before leaving him. In contrast, Kid#2 has rarely been clingy at drop off and usually heads happily to her classroom. Same family, same day care, most of the same teachers. I guess I'm just saying, don't blame yourself if he has a hard time. Kids come with some hardwiring that we can't easily change. The good news is, it gets better as they get older - Kid#1 is now a confident first-grader.

In preschool we read The Kissing Hand, and for awhile I would give him a kiss to hold for the day when I dropped him off. He has a lovie that used to travel in his backpack too, for emergency stress relief. His teachers and I were always in close contact about how he was doing - they're your best ally for helping things go well. And we tried to focus on the positive aspects of his day, from playing with specific friends to getting a favorite treat at snacktime. If it'd been an option for me to keep him home, I think he'd still be here. :)
posted by hms71 at 8:31 AM on September 5, 2011

On the days where I think our daughter is going to be clingy (which is generally evident well before we leave the house), I make sure that when we get to the daycare, she goes directly into the arms of a teacher (not on the floor with the other kids, especially if there are a bunch of them already there), and I bring her something that I know she likes to eat (generally a banana or yogurt). She likes her teachers, so that helps, and the food seems to distract her. She also gets her own blanket/sheet at school, and she knows it, so that helps, and if she is especially upset about something the teachers let her have rest time with the blanket.

The teachers will help you, too, of course. Hang in there. I would give it more than three days - it took our daughter a good three weeks to fully adjust, and that was with three full days at daycare.

(also - we found it was infinitely easier once the three days weren't interrupted with days of staying home with us. The "blocks" seem to go better for us. Sounds like you might be in a MWF situation? That might make it harder?)
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:36 AM on September 5, 2011

Perhaps your child needs more gradual entry. I'm surprised that you are expected to drop children off for such a long period by the third day. This is faster than the gradual entry for kindergarten where I live. I'd play it by ear and see if you need to have a more gradual entry. Family-centred care is the flavour of the moment, so you should be able to make a case for needing more gradual entry.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:53 AM on September 5, 2011

I would seriously consider having Other Parent spend Day #1 with the child instead of Mommy if his primary attachment is to you.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:04 AM on September 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

If my facebook feed is to be believed, three days of crying, followed by "bye Mom!"
posted by Ironmouth at 9:10 AM on September 5, 2011

Your child will probably have a big challenge ahead of him making the adjustment, for all the reasons you give, and because little kids have a really different sense of time than we do. It's one of those instances where it's hard for adults to remember how scary it is to be left at pre-school because, as adults, we *know* that 4 hours is a finite amount of time and we *know* that, of course we'll be back to get him. However, toddlers can experience this as if you've just took him off to the middle of a desert filled with monsters and YOU'RE LEAVING HIM THERE!

There's some things that you can do to help the transition. Certainly, work with a teacher at the site in preparation for this. It's really nice if there's a teacher who will be there in the morning and if the transition time can involve spending a bit of special time with her, if the site schedule can accommodate it. It can also help to titrate the amount of time he's there without you. In other words, have the first day be an hour, the second a bit more, and so on. It's also helpful if he can bring some special thing with him (blanket, stuffed toy, etc.) to keep him company. These things have been called transitional objects, and they can help the young child keep some of the sense of home and mom with him, even when they're not physically present. If you do that, it's really important that the site can accommodate this and give the kids a special place to keep their little things safe and untouched by others.

Expect some regression, expect that he might melt down when you leave, and expect to experience your own guilt and anxiety as you do this. Give him some time to make the change work, but also be open to questioning your timing and choices. Maybe it's too big a leap for him and you should rethink your timeline. Or, maybe he'll find his way just fine. This is an enormous task for a little guy. Making transitions is very hard, even for adults.

Above all, try to avoid being disappointed if the change doesn't go as you'd like it to. Praise him for every little step he takes and structure your schedule so that you or a beloved relative can celebrate your reunion and spend extra special time with him when the day is over.
posted by jasper411 at 10:19 AM on September 5, 2011

Agree 100% with zoomorphic.

You might also be surprised at how much he's changed in this short time. We went from crying separation anxiety to the first day of preschool which involved no crying. No problem. Probably didn't even need to stay in the building. Didn't do any work on it, it was just developmental.

In terms of kids going into new situations with tears--A transition from one excellent care situation to another excellent care situation is an ideal situation for learning all kinds of things. How to deal with disappointment, that new things can be fun, that there are lots of nice adults in the world, that anxiety can be unfounded, that mom will always come back...

I also think it is important to teach kids how to tolerate negativet ge emotions, and that eventually negative emotions will subside on their own or with a little help from a teacher or friend. You do not need to get what you want to be happy. This is a developmentally appropriate lesson for almost all near-3 year olds.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:20 AM on September 5, 2011

If you can have your SO, or close family member or friend, etc. drop him off instead of mommy doing it things might go easier.

I've been a stay at home dad while my wife works full-time. When I dropped the boy off we went through a few tough days, but after a week he was cool with things. But when his mom tried to drop him off he would totally melt down. Probably because he gets such limited mommy time as it is.
posted by ducktape at 11:07 AM on September 5, 2011

Allow your child to develop resilience and independence. When it's time, take him in to school, give him a kiss, and walk away. Drive out of sight, pull over and cry if you need to. He probably has a cubby. Put a few family pictures in it, and he should have a blankie or lovey. Near 3 is a fine time to learn that a new place is interesting, how to make friends with other kids, and how to be okay away from Mom for several hours. Your child will take cues from you about coping with pre-school, so be calm. You will be fine as you learn that your child can make friends and does not have to be totally dependent you.
posted by theora55 at 5:38 PM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

All of our children have gone to the local co-op preschool (one teacher, assisted by scheduled parents, 3 days a week for 2 1/2 hours each session).

My daughter has a speech delay. (She was also very clingy to us and often did not transition well with changes/new situations/new people.) It was recommended when her delay was assessed that we begin sending her to preschool. She was 2 years and 2 months at the time. It did not go well (she didn't understand it was time to sit down, and not playtime, and she had no interest in following the other kids' cues; she had uncontrollable temper tantrums when we tried to direct her). After three days' attendance (with us accompanying her the whole time), it clearly was not going to work and we pulled her out for that year.

The next year (this past school year) we sent her again. She had finally begun talking that summer and we were seeing good progress but she was still quite delayed compared to most of the other kids. Also she was not potty-trained and not indicating when she needed to be changed.

I was going to try the quick-drop (say goodbye and scoot) method but she made it clear the first day of school she was having none of that, and I didn't want to leave her when she couldn't communicate well, nor burden the teacher with trying to handle her to the exclusion of the other kids.

So first I discussed her issues with the teacher (who already knew from the previous year) and that I was going to stay with her as long as she needed it as long as I saw signs she was making progress (which was fine with the teacher; there were other kids who didn't want their parents to leave either so for a while there were a lot of extra parents around).

The first day I had to sit with her through every part of the routine. I couldn't leave her side. She didn't understand we all had to stay seated during Circle Time and not play with the toys. She didn't understand what "time to line up" meant. She didn't like it when we stopped one activity and moved on to the next. But I was able to sit away from her during free-play. She would go easily 15 or 20 minutes without looking up to see where I was. On the following days I would kind of make myself scarce (nearby, but off out of her line of sight) through Circle Times and storytime, so she could focus on the teacher and the other kids. Sometimes she looked around for me or made me sit with her, sometimes she didn't. She had a lot of crying tantrums at first and each time she did I took her away from the class (into the kitchen or out in the hall) and had her sit with me until she calmed down. Then we'd rejoin the class.

Slowly as she absorbed the new routine (she seems to benefit a lot from known, structured routines, which is understandable if one has issues communicating!) she stopped having tantrums (mostly occurring when we were transitioning from activity to activity). And I noticed she would ask the other adults or the teacher for help or interact with them when they talked to her - signs that she was becoming comfortable there and trusting the teacher; and I saw that the teacher understood her pretty well (I showed her a couple signs and specific phrases that were familiar to my daughter).

Finally there were a couple of days where I was actually able to leave the room during all of free-play time, and then I was able to leave her after they came inside off the playground; and the next week when we went to the playground for drop-off she said "bye!" and took off and didn't look back. So that was it. It took about a month of me attending with her. (She did awesome at preschool last year, btw - so much progress! - and is transitioning into a special five-day JK class this year.)

I know some kids absolutely benefit from the drop-off-and-walk-away method; I don't discount it, some kids will quit wailing and perk up once their parents are out of sight, I've seen it. But if you feel your son is not going to transition well on his own, it may well be worth the investment to transition him slowly into preschool with your accompaniment, if you are available to do it. I don't think my daughter would have had the success she's had if I didn't (it worked out because I'm stay-at-home, so I was able to find babysitting for my other son and have the time to go with her) - I probably would have had to pull her out of the school again.
posted by flex at 6:13 PM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

k8t, the tv was already on....what I was getting at was that it was something she liked which took her mind off being away from her mother.
posted by brujita at 10:22 PM on September 5, 2011

First day was ok. He was a little clingy for the first 15 minutes. He didn't really jump right in but was okay. He certainly is less verbal than the other kids. And he wasn't able to communicate with the other kids but did talk to adults with prompting from me. He was able to follow directions all day though. He had a poopy and didn't tell anyone though.

He was happy and continues speaking well about school.

The duty parent didn't show, so I was the de facto parent helper. So on Monday I will try to leave him. Hopefully with a good first day, it will be smooth. Will update.

Thanks for all the ideas.
posted by k8t at 6:56 AM on September 11, 2011

Great! If he is generally happy, it sounds like he is ready. I am so glad he will have a good school to counteract his previous experience.

Thanks for the update.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:45 AM on September 11, 2011

Second day I left him after 10 minutes. The teacher totally handled it. The parent helpers said that he didn't cry for very long. He still has a good attitude about school.

Problems that remain because he's a little anxious:
- he isn't telling them when he has a poopy. Then he gets a rash. Then he gets more worried about getting his diaper changed because it hurts. (sigh)
- because he had a poopy in his pants, he didn't want to sit for lunch.
- and yes, there are some communication issues.

But we're keeping a positive outlook!

Thanks all.
posted by k8t at 5:58 PM on September 13, 2011

Is there a non-verbal way he can tell them that he needs a diaper change? A little card or something? Obviously he needs to practice his verbal skills, but I think this would be an okay transitional step while he's getting used to new people.

If he's really regular (your old nanny might know) then you might ask them to check him around that time.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:53 PM on September 13, 2011

Yeah, good ideas young rope-rider.

Since it is a co-op, it is a different duty parent every day and duty parents are in charge of all potty-related stuff.

I think that I'll mention to his teacher on Friday that he may not tell the truth about poopies and to check.
posted by k8t at 6:05 PM on September 14, 2011

« Older Copy iTunes song?   |   I'm trying to track down an audio/sound art piece... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.