Some kids have a harder time than others making the transition into school, and they may cry for several weeks at drop-off or consistently plead with you not to take them to school. Other children might start the school year dry-eyed and eager, but after three weeks they begin sobbing when it's time for you to leave. "Many children experience a honeymoon phase with preschool, but once the novelty wears off they are un?happy about being left," explains Jennifer Miller, director and teacher at Garden Day Montessori School, in Berkeley, California. Although it's heartbreaking to walk away from your upset child, know that virtually every crying kid calms down within a few minutes -- if not seconds -- "after their parent leaves the room.
A little patience and compassion can go a long way. Talk to your child to find out if he has specific worries related to preschool. "You may discover that his anxiety revolves around the fact that he doesn't know how to put his jacket on by himself," says Deborah Simmons, a teacher at Eastview KinderCare, in Belleville, Illinois. "Practice putting his coat on and remind him that the teacher is there to help him if he gets stuck." Allowing your child to voice his concerns -- which could range from being afraid that he'll have an accident if he doesn't make it to the bathroom to worrying that they won't serve snacks he likes -- will go a long way toward alleviating his stress.
Resist the temptation to waver from your drop-off script when your little one bursts into tears. Don't read one more book or come back for an extra hug. "Mornings become even more difficult if your child believes he can change the routine by begging or crying," says Johnson. Getting him involved in an activity with another child can be a good distraction. And even if you're desperate to stave off the tears, never leave without explicitly saying goodbye. "Sneaking out has a lasting impact -- in the end it will just make your child more anxious and fearful of going to school," says Johnson.
You may feel guilty about leaving your hysterical child with someone else, but it's a preschool teacher's job to deal with kids who don't want to leave their parents. However, you can help the teacher out by sharing information about your child's likes, dislikes, and favorite activities so she can skillfully re?direct his attention. Remember that these teary-eyed days won't last forever. "Once your child has a relationship with his teachers, the school days will get easier," vows Johnson.
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine.