It’s preschool week here at NYT Parenting. When I started looking into preschools for my older daughter, a lot of terms were thrown at me as if I knew what they meant (which I certainly did not). We have explainers for some of these early-childhood education buzzwords — Montessori, Reggio, Waldorf and “forest school” — so you can be less ignorant than I was.
Another shock to the system when I began the preschool process: the astronomical cost. So we partnered with YouGov to survey American parents on how the cost of preschool and day care is affecting their lives. We polled more than 1,000 parents and found that 20 percent reported going into debt to pay for preschool and day care — a sobering but unsurprising result.
We will send our younger gal off to school for the first time in a few weeks, and I’m bracing myself for another common issue during school transitions — rough drop-offs. I remember leaving her older sister at preschool for the first time and feeling smugly confident about the fact that she didn’t cry when we left. I recall thinking to myself, Look how well we prepared her for this experience! What excellent parents we are!
Turns out, she didn’t cry because she thought preschool was a one-time thing. On day two, when she realized that this would be her reality for the foreseeable future, she started wailing as we said our goodbyes. I can still hear the echoing, “Don’t leave, Mommy!!!” in the depths of my soul.
My daughter’s preschool teachers were extra helpful in easing those tough moments: they outlined very clearly that drop-off happened in the cubby area, outside the classroom, and helped parents disentangle from their little clingers swiftly but kindly. Amanda Marsden, a kindergarten teacher in Cape Elizabeth, Me., said that she’s always given parents the advice to just leave quickly if their kids are crying, but now that she’s a parent too, she empathizes with how difficult that can be. “Watching your baby cry is so, so hard to just walk away from,” she said.
I called Amanda to get her professional advice about how best to support your kids through their first weeks of school if drop-offs are hairy. Here are her tips.
Check the school’s drop-off policy, if it’s possible to do so before school starts. That way you can talk to your kids about what to expect at drop-off and prepare them. “It’s important to go through the process with them, so it’s not a total shock when you’re like, ‘O.K., bye!’” Marsden said.
Make the separation quick. Many schools won’t let parents over the threshold of the classroom, and for good reason: any further in, and it can become more challenging to separate, Marsden said. While it’s certainly painful to walk away while your child is still sobbing, they’ll typically stop crying within a few minutes after you leave (cliché, but true, Marsden said). Your kid will get into the rhythm of his school day and forget about you. “The routinization is comforting,” Marsden said.
Remember that school brings a new set of emotional expectations. One thing Marsden said that really resonated with me was that, for some kids, school is the first time they are expected to be “on” during the day. The demands are much different at school than they are at home, and on some level, children are performing just as we do in the adult world. This can be emotionally draining for them just as it is for us, and understanding this may help you reframe their experience.
Offer them something reminiscent of home. If your child is still struggling to adjust after a week or so, talk to her teacher about different tactics that might calm her, Marsden said. Giving her an object that reminds her of home might help, whether that’s a family photo, a stuffed animal or a small blanket that she can take to a quiet space when she feels homesick. When my older daughter was having a rough time during the first months of kindergarten, I gave her a fuzzy key chain and told her whenever she missed me, to rub it and know that I was thinking about her.
Stay positive. It’s hard for any parent to walk away from a sobbing kid. But you have to pretend like it’s not. “If you’re showing that it’s really hard for you, kids are incredibly intuitive and emotionally in check with what you’re giving out,” Marsden said, and they will pick up on your upset. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a good cry yourself after you walk away from them, but keep that smile plastered on during the separation.
P.S. We want to hear from you about what you did to manage tough transitions. Email us here.
P.P.S. We *also* want to hear from you about your family’s postpartum rituals, for a package we’re pulling together about birth around the United States. Tell us about them here.
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Want More on Kindergarten, Preschool and Day Care?
If you think that your 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds are facing greater academic demands than you did as a child, you’re not wrong. Melinda Wenner-Moyer, a frequent NYT Parenting contributor, looked at how early childhood education has changed over the past few decades, and why some educators are concerned about the psychological effects on little kids.
If your child is in day care, Stephanie Fairyington compiled 6 Things That Drive Day Care Workers Crazy, and drawn-out drop-offs are one of them. Keep it moving, folks!
Maria Russo, the Times’ children’s books editor, compiled a fantastic list of back-to-school picture books that may ease your kid’s early school days. I’m a particular fan of Mo Willems’ “The Pigeon HAS to Go to School!”
Why has the United States resisted universal child care? The Times’ Claire Cain Miller takes a deep dive.
Parenting can be a grind. Let’s celebrate the tiny victories.
We play “Imperial March” from “Star Wars” on Alexa and tell our daughter that she has to go upstairs/bed because Darth Vader is coming to clean the house.
— Faye Silag, Vacaville, Calif.
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