Should You Leave Your Crying Kid at Preschool?
When my first headed off to preschool, she couldn't say goodbye quickly enough. All she needed to hear was "crafts" and "storytime" and zip...she was out the door. Sayonara, Mama!
Then, it was time for her little brother to join the preschool class. He had been with me at drop-off and pick-up for his sister and knew all the teachers. He also loved stories and was even more social than his big sister. It was just two days a week for two and a half hours each day, with lots of play time.
On his first day, I dressed him up, packed his snack, and gave him a big hug and kiss. "We got this," I thought.
The first month was no problem. Two hugs and kisses and off he went to play with trains, Play-Doh, and blocks.
All of sudden, though, he started protesting on the way to school. He started to hysterically cry at drop off. Bringing him to school became rip-my-heart-out painful. None of my tricks (allowing him to choose a toy to bring from home, giving him some control over how we said "goodbye") were working.
Since I didn't need the childcare and do not believe preschool is necessary, I thought about pulling him out. We never left him to cry alone in a crib as a baby and it felt wrong walking away from him while he cried.
We decided, however, that leaving a verbal three year old with caring teachers in a safe and warm environment was different than leaving a pre-verbal infant alone at night. I also knew and trusted the teachers. And the school was a co-op where parents took turns volunteering.
I also liked spending some one-on-one time with his big sister who had half day kindergarten. As a work at home mom, it also gave me a little extra time when I had a big project due.
Most importantly, the teachers told me he stopped crying within seconds of my leaving. He was always smiling and proud of his work when I picked him up.
I don't think you need to push a child into preschool if he is truly miserable but it may be worth waiting out a few tears at drop-off if:
- you have verified that there are no problems / concerns about the school environment (you trust the teachers, feel the space is safe, and there have been no incidents with other children).
- you need those hours of childcare for work, your own own well-being, or to provide one-on-one attention to a sibling.
- your child is ready for preschool (can pay attention, play with other kids, shows an interest in learning).
- your child becomes happily engaged in playing shortly after you leave.
- your instinct says this is the right choice for your family.
- the school is open to having you or another trusted family member volunteer in the classroom a couple of times a year.
So, we decided to give it a month and I am glad we did. Gradually the drop-off tears turned to big grins. My son became very positive about school. His dad took over our family's volunteer days and these "special days" became the highlight of our son's month. He became very attached to his teachers and received a lot of positive feedback for his love of science and reading.
Two years after his first day of preschool, my little guy got on the bus to kindergarten with no more than a "See you later, mama!"