Happy back-to-school season!
I wanted to write a little something about drop-offs. Drop-offs look different for all kids and families! While some kids are off to play in a flash without hardly looking back at you, others might cling and cry with worry about what happens next. Hopefully, you have an amazing teacher and support in your child’s classroom that will assist you and your child with drop-offs!
As a parent, here are some tried and true tips and tricks for you all to try for this new school year. See the bottom for tips and tricks as a child care provider and teacher!
Talk to your child. Tell them what’s going to happen and ask if they have any questions.
Use visuals. Visuals are helpful for many children! A visual might include a calendar on the fridge that shows which days are school days and which days are home days. You might even create a more detailed schedule for your child which shows things like, “wake up, breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, drive to school, play with friends, pick up time, lunchtime!”
Create a routine together (this could be another opportunity for a visual with words and pictures for your child). A great drop-off/school routine might look like this, “arrive at school, put things in a cubby, wash hands, read one story, give one hug and one kiss, say goodbye.”
Stick to your routine or your word. This feels hard at first when your child is begging for extra hugs or just two more minutes. Remind them of the routine you created together and why you did it, so they could spend more time learning and having fun with friends at school!
Recommend a safe and cozy spot in the room for them to retreat to after you leave if they’re not ready to join the group yet. You can have them go to one of the cozy cubes, stay on the couch with a book, or wave to you at the window.
Recruit staff for help! If you’ve finished your routine and said your goodbyes but your child is still struggling, please ask for assistance from staff and they will be happy to come and offer a snuggle, a book, or help to find a toy!
The tips and tricks can sort of be reversed, or looked at from the other side, to help you with families and children at drop-offs. I always imagine how I would feel as a parent in their situation, or try to think about what I would want the teachers to do for me.
Observe. If you see the parent or family member looking at you, looking frustrated, or lost; you should consider jumping in!
Connect. Let the family member know you are there and ready if they need you. Make sure you have said hi and checked in with the child, too.
Prompt the child and family member that you’re getting ready to step in. If the drop-off is not going well or lasting a long time, it might be time for you to step in and metaphorically “rip the band-aid off”. In all my years of teaching, I have noticed that the longer the drop-off, the worse it can get! I have had to, at times, almost push the parent out the door, because I know the child will typically start to calm down and begin to play once they leave.
Ensure the parent that you have the child, they will be safe and loved and have fun. Tell them something like, “I’ll talk to her so she can start to play and settle in and you can get to work.”
Ask the family what they need to make drop-offs feel easier. It might be that they need ideas from you! You might have family pictures accessible for the child, have them write a note to their family after they leave, connect them with an older friend in the classroom who can support them, etc.
Check in with the child later about the drop-off. Talk to them about how they felt sad but now they look happier and seem to be having fun. You can use this moment to reflect back on if they have another challenging drop-off the next day.
If you have the means, text a picture or call the parent or family member to let them know their little one is safe and doing better. Personally, there is nothing better than knowing that my girl is safe and happy after I had to say goodbye to her in tears.
If drop-offs are continually challenging and not getting better, or if the child doesn’t ever calm down and settle in, it may be time to start collecting more observations and visiting with the family about the next steps. Remember, don't wait to check in with the family until it’s too late. Be honest but positive about what you are seeing with their child.
It’s always helpful to approach them with resources if you need to have that talk. You can research ways to help a child cope with their parent leaving as well as back it up with your observations and notes about their child. Be positive yet honest, speaking only about what you are seeing at first, and try to leave your feelings out of the equation for the time being. Give the family the chance to mull it over and come back with their ideas or concerns before you make major plans and decisions.
Meghan is a born and raised Montanan, a mama to a rambunctious toddler, and a bonus mom to two amazing preteens. She recently earned a Master's degree in Early Childhood Education. In addition to her position as an Early Childhood Specialist at the University of Montana, Meghan enjoys a variety of odd mix of jobs; nannying, creating and selling travel play dough kits, making essential oil blends for kids, providing families with child guidance on Facebook and Instagram, and now providing ideas and tips to child care providers in partnership with Raise Montana! Meghan is also a content contributor for 406 Families, a site dedicated to connecting families to local events and resources.