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6 Keys to a Drop-off Without Tears

The start of preschool or new school year is such an exciting time! As parents, we are imagining all the exciting things our children will learn and how much they will grow over the year. It’s bitter-sweet, watching our little ones take their first steps to independence. At the same time, we’re excited, we are also feeling anxiety and sadness about letting them go, especially that moment when we have to say goodbye. We worry about how they will do without us. We question our decision. We feel guilty about “abandoning” them, even though we’re not.

As you step into the new school year, here are some techniques that can make saying goodbye a more peaceful experience:

1) Never sneak away. Your little one has pulled out the blocks and doesn’t even seem to notice you’re still in the room. Maybe if you quickly escape, she will never even realize you’ve left! We get it, it’s tempting, but don’t do it! Please know that you may be causing extra anxiety, sadness, or even fear when she realizes you’re nowhere to be found. Future drop-offs can get more challenging as a result.

2) Use a goodbye ritual. Maybe it’s a big hug, then you cheerfully say, “See you later, Alligator”, and finally blow him a kiss as you walk through the exit. Whatever your ritual, make it short, sweet, and consistent. Not only should you do this for school drop-off, you can use this ritual for all of your goodbyes.

3) Don’t linger. Even if there are tears, follow your ritual and leave with sensitive confidence. Otherwise, your child may be left with even more anxiety, not getting the opportunity to understand when and why you are leaving. Remember, you’re modeling the behavior for your child that everything is going to be okay. Know that your child’s teachers are partners, ready to step in. They will soothe and comfort your little one after you leave, helping with the transition. It’s surprising, but it usually only takes a few minutes!

4) Talk about it in advance. It’s easiest if your child knows what to expect, even if she’s too young to fully “get it.” Tell her what’s going to happen when you get to school, describe your goodbye ritual, and make sure she understands how excited you will be to see her when you pick her up at the end of the day.

5) Communicate. When everyone is back at home, during some quiet time, talk to your child. You may say, “I noticed that you were sad when I dropped you off this morning.” Give your child some time to safely share his feelings and ensure he knows how much you love him. Let him know that it’s okay to be sad or scared and that you miss him, too, when you’re apart.

6) There will be good days and bad days. You should expect some regression back to tears after long breaks or during times of change in your family dynamic. But sometimes, you won’t be prepared. Just like a grown-up, your child will have different daily moods. To that end, you may follow your routine tear-free for weeks, then find yourself with a clingy, tender, or sobbing child when you least expect it. These are the days that feel the worst. Do your best to stay calm and keep up with your routine. Even though it may not feel like it in the moment, you’re doing a great job!


About Gillispie School: We are an independent toddler through Grade 6 school in La Jolla, CA. We believe that learning is a journey in which children are active participants. Our students partner with teachers to further their academic, creative, and social growth, and we balance a child-centered approach that does not rush childhood with well-researched academic programs that demand higher-level thinking. Click here to learn more about our school.

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