A few weeks back my little girl, Lucy, started objecting to being left at day care. She has been attending regularly for well over a year and apart from some occasional, explainable upset drop offs, she has generally been quite happy to wave goodbye and get on with her all important play as I leave for work.
Recently, however, Lucy has become increasingly more clingy, developing into full-blown distress as I have had to prize her little fingers from where she has entangled them firmly around an article of my clothing, as I hand her to one of her carers. I know this type of separation anxiety is extremely common and although difficult to experience, I have taken some comfort in the fact that she genuinely feels she needs me and would rather be with me than in the care of others.
Unfortunately, though, after weeks of these tense drop offs, it was becoming more and more difficult to get away and I felt I needed to do more to help Lucy transition into her centre’s care on her day care days so I ensured I did each of the following.
When I picked Lucy up I acknowledged that she had been upset when I had left that morning and explained how hard it must be for her to have to watch me leave. I would reassure her that I will always come back to pick her up and I missed her just as much. This way she was able to process her emotions and reflect on that time from earlier in the day, knowing that I understood and wasn’t just abandoning her heartlessly.
2. Establish Connection With Home
I invited Lucy to take something from home to show her teachers and friends. Being a very social little girl, Lucy loves showing her carers, friends and anyone who will listen, all her books, toys or other special trinkets she collects. I was hoping she would feel more connected to her day care this way and indeed by having these things (especially photos of her doing something recent) she was able to use them as ice breakers and immediately I could see her relax in the company of her carers.
3. Project Confidence
It can be easy to become flustered by the serious emotions released by a child being torn from your arms but the last thing they need is to see you falter or exhibit any anxiety, distress or even just unsureness. So I kept my goodbyes simple and straight forward, projecting the confidence I had in her centre and its carers that she will be well looked after until I return.
4. Create a Routine
This was something we were already doing but without being too strict about the order, timing or wording of things. So I sharpened it up. I took the same pathway into the centre, asked Lucy to choose her locker, helped her find an activity to engage with, told her I was leaving, gave her a kiss and a cuddle, said “I love you and I will be back to pick you up after school. Goodbye.” Then I walked out and waved to her through the viewing window. I followed these exact steps EVERYDAY.
5. Talk Through the Drop Off Routine Prior to Dropping Off
The final practise I adopted had the most profound effect on changing the dynamics of the day care drop off. One morning on the way to day care, I decided to prep Lucy on what would happen. Even though we have been attending care for over a year now, I somehow felt it necessary to run over the routine of the morning drop off. So I started, “Lucy, when we get to (centre’s name), we are going to get your bag and hop out of the car. We will run up the ramp together like we always do. That’s going to be lots of fun (she loves this bit). We’re going to go inside and I will sign you in on the computer. Then we’ll go through the big gate and into your room. Then you can choose which locker you want to put your bag in and after you have put your bag in locker, you can choose an activity that you would like to do. Then I’m going to give you a big kiss and cuddle, tell you I love you and that I will be right back to pick you up after work. Then I am going to say goodbye and leave.” I used little pauses between each step to give Lucy time to visualise herself doing these things.
Lucy listened intently to this so I added, “Sometimes you get upset when I leave and that’s ok. Mary and Jodie will be there to look after you and give you a cuddle when I am gone.” Lucy immediately piped up and said, “I’m not going to cry today, Mum!” I was surprised at her response and immediately countered with, “It’s ok to cry if you are feeling upset, it’s normal to feel this way.”
As we neared her day care, I repeated the process explaining the routine. I believe strongly that knowledge is power. Knowledge prior to an event allows time to process uncertainties surrounding the event, work through solutions to issues and provide the predictability that children thrive on. Once again, Lucy let me know she wasn’t going to cry and I gently reminded her that I didn’t mind if she cried if she felt she needed to.
She reiterated assertively, “I’m not going to cry, Mum!” So I said, “Ok, darling and left it at that.
The time came to walk Lucy through the steps we had spoken about in the car. She bounded through each one as though a huge weight had been lifted. She confidently strode from one transition to the next, even stopping to say good morning to the office lady on the way (which she never does). We went into her room and continued through the process. When the time came to kiss, cuddle, and say goodbye, she tightened her grip on my sleeve ever so slightly before letting it go and allowing me to walk away without a single whinge.
When I returned that day, she was immeasurably happy and her carers told me she had been buzzing all day.
I repeated the same prepping process the following day and again Lucy let me know she wouldn’t cry. She even added in that she would say goodbye this time and sure enough, when I turned to walk away from her after our drop off routine she called out confidently, “Bye, Mummy!” It was seamless, special. I walked out of there with tears of happiness and pride for my little girl.
Day care drop offs are now a special time of ritual and connection and I am so pleased to have been able to help my daughter through some pretty hard times with it.
You might also like to read:
Easing the Stress of Day Care Pick Ups ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)
Using RIE Philosophies to Introduce Our Children to Day Care ~ Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)