One moment your little one is happy and excited to start the day, and the next they’re crying when you arrive at school. No two days or weeks may play out the same – sometimes drop-offs are smooth sailing, other times it may feel like your little one will never stop crying. If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. 

Helena Williams-Johnson, a mother herself and the National Director of SmartPlay Early Learners, says the majority of children who show behaviour changes like this do so because of separation anxiety. 

To help ease the pain for both parents and children, Helena has shared her top 10 tips for tackling challenging preschool drop-offs: 

Create a goodbye routine

As children learn the best through routine and practice, it is important to have a goodbye ritual or routine in place. This routine can be as simple as saying something every time before dropping them off, giving them a hug and a kiss, or just waving at the window when you leave. The key with creating a ritual is to be consistent with it, so your child knows what to expect every day. But for this ritual to work, goodbyes should be kept short and sweet.

Allow the child to have a transitional object 

Transitional objects act as an enormous source of comfort for some children because they remind them of home and instantly makes them feel comfortable in a new environment. Some ideas are a small stuff toy, a blanket or lovie, a family picture, or something else that might provide the child comfort. It’s important to check with your child’s teacher to make sure this comfort item is okay to have at school.

Talk positively and confidently about school 

Often a parent’s stress and anxiety is transferred to their child. It’s important for adults to stay positive and calm during a stressful drop-off episode. Stick with your routine, reassure your child and remind them you’ll be back for them.

Make the separation quick 

It’s important to keep drop-off short and sweet. The longer you and your child have together in a high-stress situation, the harder it will be for each of you to calm your nerves and transition into your day. Trust in yourself – you’ve made a great decision on a care centre for your child, and they will support you both during this difficult time.

Create a visual schedule 

My favourite tip is to create a bright and colourful visual schedule that will help your child understand the routine and get through the difficult transition times. You can create this schedule using explanatory images and signs that represent all the fun activities they will undertake in school.  A little tip – add number or visuals words like “first”, “then”, “now”, or “next”, for their clarity. 

Talk to your child’s educator 

Speak with the care team at your child’s preschool. They can be your best ally in a smooth drop-off. Some schools may have a special drop-off policy in place so be sure to ask about this.

Talk about school the night before

Talk about your child’s day at bedtime. This will help the next day when you can mention the fun they had with a friend or doing an activity. You can also acknowledge a difficult drop-off and ask the child what might help them. 

Talk about what’s going to happen 

While your little one is brushing their teeth, remind them what fun they’ll have at pre-school. As they’re putting on their shoes, talk about an activity planned for the school day. While you’re in the car, ask which friends they’ll see. These things will help them visualise their day, so they know what to expect. 

Remind them about their favourite friend or snack 

To help ease their worries, talk to your little one about the things they really enjoy at preschool – a new friend, a favourite snack, a special book, a beloved educator. These positive associations will help you both remember what a wonderful experience your child will have during their day.

Visit the school with your child before they start  

Whenever possible, visit the school before your child’s first day. Showing them their classroom, play area and nap area beforehand will make them comfortable and will reduce their nerves.  Be sure to tell them the name of the school and introduce them to their educators to get ready for their first day!