School drop-off and pick-up may sound mundane, but we parents know just how powerful they can be, even after getting into the swing of a new school year. A challenging drop-off can set the tone for the rest of the day. As a mom of two, I’ve left many tearful drop-offs full of guilt and frustration and found it impossible to check those feelings at the door at work. On the other hand, I also experienced the rush of confidence and pride (in my son and in myself) on mornings when he bounced happily into preschool. I’ve experienced pick-ups in different ways too–sometimes fully relishing the joy of reuniting with my child after time apart, other times rushing through his replay of the day’s activities in order to get home in time for that final zoom meeting.
The truth is, drop-off and pick-up are complex moments for both parent and child. They represent the transition points between our outer world and inner family lives. For children, adapting to the rhythm of drop-off and pick-up is a significant developmental opportunity and an important step in their independence. There are bound to be a variety of emotions and dynamics at play—for you and them.
Here are a few tips we share with Brella families to set them up for success during drop-off and pick-up, whether today or six months from now:
1. What to do before drop-off
Tell your child the plan for the day. Even if they go to preschool everyday, it’s helpful to talk about what the day will look like for your family.
“Today you’re going to play at school. I am dropping you off and going to some meetings at my office. I’ll pick you up after rest time, then we’ll go to the market together.”
2. School drop off ritual and goodbye
We encourage families to have a simple goodbye ritual, for example, a secret handshake, high five, or hug. Once you’ve checked in, practice your ritual and then say a brief goodbye to your child. Be positive and smile.”
“Have the best day! The teachers will take good care of you and I’ll be back after rest time so we can go to the market together.”
Once you say goodbye, turn around and leave. Don’t go back if your child is crying. It’s important that you communicate that you are confident they are in a safe place. It’s important to clearly say goodbye and never sneak out, you never want to leave without saying goodbye. After you say goodbye, take a deep breath, grab a coffee, and trust that your children will be well taken care of.
If you need assurance that your child has settled into their classroom, it’s OK to reach out to the school for a quick update. Just remember that staff are likely focusing on welcoming children in at this time, so it’s best to reach out about 30 minutes after drop off has ended.
3. Information sharing with teachers or staff
Drop-off is often a chance for parents to share updates with the school staff. “Lou is starting solids this week.” “Sam didn’t sleep well last night.” When doing so, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Keep it brief (1-2 sentences) and share the info before saying goodbye so that the staff member can be fully present with your child at that point.
- Any critical information (medical instructions, authorized pickup updates) should be shared by phone or email with the center administrator prior to drop-off.
- Save sensitive or confidential information for a phone call with the administrator. This includes any comments about the child’s behavior that inadvertently imply shame or judgment, “I hope she doesn’t bite today.” Even the youngest children pick up on this and may feel less confident with the drop-off as a result.
4. What to do during pick-up
Greet your child on their level (kneel down to look at them eye to eye) with a smile and a big hug. Put your phone away and focus on your child so they feel seen. Be sure to connect with your child first before chatting with a school staff member about how the day went. Be positive and confident at pick up so your child is excited to come back to school the next day.
5. Be intentional, not perfect
Just remember, it’s OK to have challenging drop-offs and pick-ups, even if you aren’t new to the game. Our goal is to support families in being present and intentional during these daily moments in order to set them up for the best outcomes. But that doesn’t mean everything always goes according to plan. Don’t be hard on yourself or on your child. Finding your drop-off and pick-up rhythm takes practice and it does get easier over time.
This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please email [email protected].