Welcome to the world of school drop-offs! I promise it’s going to be a wonderful experience. There’s nothing like watching your child happily bounce into school.
But that isn’t always how it feels at school drop off on day one. For many, the first drop-off (or sometimes, the first week of drop-offs) can be highly emotional—for you and them. It is all too common to see a parent and child clinging together in tears, refusing to say goodbye. It’s completely normal and expected that you feel sadness, anxiety or even resentment about sending their child to school. When these normal emotions go unchecked, they can negatively affect your child’s experience, so it is important for parents to have some tools to help you navigate these moments.
At Brella child care centers, we deal with first-time drop-offs a lot. Here are a few tips we share with our new families.
6 tips for a successful school drop-off
1. Choose your mindset
We call it transition instead of separation. Separation reinforces absence and implies a breaking apart of bonds. This is not what school/child care is about. Instead, use the word “transition”- which offers a more positive and developmental view of the experience. As you go through this process with your own family- think about it as a natural and beneficial transition into a new phase of parenting to help establish a different mindset about the experience.
2. Ask Questions
Leading up to the first drop off, you should feel comfortable asking questions about the program, the daily routines, what to bring, etc. You should go into your first day with a clear understanding of the expectations. Asking questions does not make you an “annoying” parent as long as they are relevant. Information is key to building trust and partnership.
3. The Goodbye
Oh man, this part is hard. I’ve done it as a parent three times and as a school owner, more times than I can count. It’s okay to feel emotional and it’s definitely okay to cry. But just be aware that your child, no matter how old, is reading your emotions. Most of the time, if you are exhibiting anxiety, your child will match your emotions. If you know you are feeling emotional, tell the school team right away. Simply stating “this is my first time dropping off and I’m feeling really emotional” is a great cue for the team to help support you through the transition.
At Brella, we recommend shorter goodbyes. We encourage families to create their own brief, goodbye ritual (e.g. two kisses and a hug) and once that is complete, it is your cue to hand your child off to the teacher and leave. Even if your child is sad or crying or holding onto you for dear life, once this ritual is complete, you really need to leave. This clean transition signals to your child that you are sure this is a safe place for them and gives them the confidence they need to begin their transition into school.
If your child is upset, tell them (and yourself), “This is a safe place and mommy will be back soon.” You can repeat that as many times as you need. That is all they (and sometimes you) need to hear to know everything will be ok.
It’s okay to check in with the school after your child has transitioned into care (just not every 5 minutes). At Brella, we typically reach out after 30 minutes with an update or photo, but for some schools this might not be possible. If you are anxious and want to know how your child is doing, you absolutely can check in. Check with your child’s school to see what kind of plan they have in place for parents who want to check in throughout the day. Be patient and don’t worry if you don’t hear from them right away, as they are busy supporting your children!
5. Be gentle to yourself
Be kind to yourself and allow room to feel your emotions. You might feel fine and free, but there is also a chance that you’ll feel distracted and anxious. Don’t schedule an important meeting, a presentation to your boss, or honestly anything that will require you to be sharp and on point during your child’s first day(s) at school.
6. The first day is not definitive
We see everything on the first day from kids thriving to kids navigating big feelings. And it goes the same for the parents. Your child’s (and your own) experience on the first day does not define their entire school career. Don’t give up right away and never feel defeated. If things are challenging, reach out to the school and ask for advice and support. They are pros.
As a first day of school “veteran” I can promise you one thing: going to school strengthens the bonds between you and your child. It provides a shared experience of resilience as well as a new joy of coming back together. I’ve experienced this personally with my own children, I’ve heard it from hundreds of parents and I understand it from a child development perspective. The hugs and conversations after a day at school are beyond and I’m so excited for you and your child to have this amazing experience.
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