So my clingy toddler started preschool this month, and it went as well as I imagined – and by well, I mean not good at all. She was a little displeased, you could say.
My girl is known to be a stage-five clinger. She loves mom so much, even dad has been deemed mostly insufficient, leaving him subject to what I like to call the forceful throw-back, a.k.a. the “I prefer to catapult myself to the floor and then blame you as I cry, rather than stay in your arms.”
We knew starting preschool wouldn’t be easy with her, but definitely wanted to start pushing her out of her comfort zone, and we thought we had a pretty good plan to help the anxiety and limit the crying at drop-off. Little did I know, we were doing it all wrong. So here’s a quick guide to what not to do when your attached toddler is starting preschool.
1. Don’t Send Them Just Once a Week to “Ease the Transition”
Though it may seem counterintuitive, don’t send them just one day a week, thinking that you’re making it easier on them. A lot of times, sending them one day a week can make it even more difficult to adapt, because apparently, kids forget things very easily. (Side note: This may mean that maybe your kids aren’t ignoring everything you say — they just can’t remember anything!).
What you can do instead: send them for a full week – or two – and then decrease to the number of days you actually do want to send them. This tactic builds a consistency that will help them adjust a little better to the new environment and new routines, and perceive it as their new normal. Also, seeing their teacher daily will help them build trust there as well.
Check to see if your preschool has a trial week, and if you have the flexibility, start your child during that week. Also, talk to your school or daycare director! We are lucky to have a very flexible director who is letting us send our daughter any eight days we want during the month, instead of just the normal two days each week.
2. Don’t Go Into Their Classroom
Stop, drop, and roll out of the school like your pants are on fire! Don’t go into their classroom, and don’t try to do anything ceremonial because it’s the first day and you’re emotional.
Visit your little one’s classroom and teacher before they start school so that you’re ready to hand them over as soon as you arrive for drop-off. Leave promptly and don’t look back. It may sound harsh, but if they’re thrown off by how quickly everything’s happening, that allows them less opportunity to get immediately upset.
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3. Don’t Walk Back Into School (For Any Reason. No, Seriously.)
I was cautiously optimistic that my daughter would do better her second day/week of school. As soon as I began to leave though, she started bawling. I hustled out of the school, and about 30 seconds later realized that I had forgotten to take my son’s toy cars, which he had begged to take with him on the walk to school (he’s not allowed to bring toys into school, so I promised he could walk with them, and then I would take them home to “keep the safe.”).
So, I hightailed it back into the school and into my son’s classroom, only to find that my daughter was in there as well, still crying in her teacher’s arms. She took one look at me and did the “OMG, HELP ME” arm outreach move, and proceeded to cry even harder. Her crying tipped off the little girl next to her, who started bawling as well. I hastily grabbed the toys from my son – who looked completely shell shocked by everything that was happening – and ran out of the door mumbling “love you guys!”
That wasn’t the end though. One of the toys he had with him belonged to one of his classmates, who just happened to be in the lobby as I was leaving. He took one look at his toy ambulance that was somehow “gifted” to my son, and promptly started yelling “AMBULANCE!” I couldn’t run fast enough.
Repeat after me: do not go back to school until it’s time for pickup.
4. Don’t Spend the Whole Day Wondering How They’re Doing
Yes, you’re sending your child to preschool so that they can learn new, exciting things, build social skills…start building their resume for college. But also, let’s be honest – it’s a break for you too. So take that break! Don’t spend the whole morning checking your texts and your emails for messages from school. And for the love of all things peace and quiet, please don’t call the school and message them every 10 minutes asking for updates.
If there’s truly something wrong, don’t worry – they will call you to come take your tiny clingster home asap.
5. Don’t Give Up
In all seriousness – and I know this is harder said than done – don’t give up! Your baby will adapt to school eventually, they won’t be angry at you for the rest of your life for sending them there, and it won’t be like this forever. Hey, eventually they’ll go to kindergarten, and this phase will be over!
Also, tears are ok. Babies cry. Toddlers cry. Adults cry! Every kid is different, and school will be harder for some to adjust to, but they will get through it. And one of these days, you will drop them off and they won’t look back.
How have your kids dealt with starting preschool?