5 Tips For 'The Drop-Off Blues!'

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Loving son kissing mother on cheek while enjoying piggyback ride at lakeshore
Loving son kissing mother on cheek while enjoying piggyback ride at lakeshore

My daughter is in first-grade and she is still crying every morning when we take her to school even though this is her fourth week. She was fine last year when she had a teacher she had known since pre-school. She is also fine staying overnight at her grandma's. How can I help her with this separation anxiety?

Around eight o'clock every morning, thousands of parents endure a painful version of the "Drop-Off Blues" as their little ones sob their way to the classroom door. It's hard on everyone.

However, while some children struggle with separation anxiety whenever they are away from a parent, this isn't what you are describing. Your daughter was fine last year when her teacher was familiar to her, and is also comfortable spending time with grandma when you aren't there.

It is more likely that the problem is that she hasn't developed a strong bond with her teacher. The instinct to attach to a caregiver is powerful; in its absence, little ones feel untethered.

Teachers generally try their best to help each student adjust, but some are more gifted at fostering attachment than others, and some children are more resistant to what may feel like forced fondness. If your daughter hasn't settled in after a month, look for ways to foster a stronger connection between your daughter and her teacher.

Here are five quick tips for helping things along:

  1. Ask if your daughter can come into the classroom early so that she can have some quiet time with her teacher, perhaps organizing the bookshelf or pinning things to the bulletin board. Without the noise and competition of other children, the two of them may find it easier to get to know one another.

  • Create a photo book with your daughter that she can share with her teacher. Include pictures that show her doing some of her favorite things or highlighting a family trip. By feeling known by her teacher, your daughter may begin to feel closer to her.
  • Ask if she can be "in charge" of something in the classroom. Many children do well when they have a special job. Maybe you can ask the teacher to put her in charge of feeding the class hamster, or watering the plants. Having a responsibility may help your daughter feel more at home.
  • Encourage new friendships. It is far easier for a child to look forward to the school day when she has a friend waiting to play with her. Look for one or two children in the new class who might come over after school. A child who is less outgoing often finds it easier to develop friendships in one-on-one situations.
  • Invite the teacher to tell you two or three things about your daughter that she enjoys. Then share these tidbits with your little girl. We tend to feel closer to those who like us, so do a little matchmaking!
  • Most children adjust to a new teacher as routines become familiar and the classroom begins to feel like a second home. Try these ideas to help your daughter naturally adjust to her new teacher. If things are still going badly in a few weeks, you may want to ask the school counselor to help out.

    Best of luck!

    Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

    To learn more about her online parenting courses, classes and personal coaching support, visit her Facebook page or sign up for her free newsletter.

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