Son Cries on the Way to School

Filed under: Day Care & Education, Development: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Behavior: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Development: Big Kids, Behavior: Big Kids, Education: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Big Kids

Dear AdviceMama:

We are into the sixth week of school and my first-grade son is having some real separation anxiety issues. He cries every day when I drop him off. What can I do?


Dear Rena:

Around eight o'clock every morning, thousands of parents face the "Drop-Off Blues" as their little ones sob their way to the classroom door. It's hard on everyone, including the teacher, who has to teach a hurting child who's blaming her for depriving him of his longed-for home and Mommy.

When kids are unhappy, most parents want to help them feel better as quickly as possible. We do our best to explain why they can't have what they want, whether it's another bedtime story, a trip to the toy store or a chance to stay home where it's safe and familiar. I call this "Act Two" parenting; we think that if we can convince a child that his desire is unrealistic or wrong, he'll stop being upset.

But without feeling heard and understood, children aren't receptive to our well-intentioned advice.Find a time when your child is happy and relaxed, and ask him what it's like when you drop him off. Don't respond with logical remarks like, "Everybody has to go to school" or "Don't you want to learn how to read?" Be empathic and encourage him to offload his feelings. "Oh sweetie, I'm sorry it's so hard for you. You feel so sad when you want Mommy."

When he feels heard, he'll be more receptive to your input. Focus on what you'll do together when you pick him up. Ask him what might help in the moments he most misses you. Look for ways to volunteer in the classroom (unless that would make it worse).

Raising kids doesn't require that we always find solutions to their difficulties. It does mean that we comfort them through their tears and sorrow. Often, when a child knows we understand, they magically find ways through their sadness and grief to acceptance. Meanwhile, empathize with him instead of engaging in negotiations en route to school. And of course do make sure there's nothing going on in the classroom -- other than missing you -- that deserves your attention.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.