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Preschool drop-offs and crying

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No more tears

Sometimes the best parenting advice comes from others in the same boat. SheKnows welcomes Ann Silberman, mother of two and stepmother of two, who shares some advice to get you through the trials of motherhood. Have a parenting problem for Ann to help with? Send your questions to her here.

Mom dropping off son at preschool

Your question

My 4 year old son started 1/2-day preschool in September. It's December and he's still crying at drop off. He says he knows we will always come back for him, and he has fun while there and stops crying five minutes after we leave, he comes home and tells us stuff he learned, so it's not stopping him from learning. I've thought about pulling him out of school, I've talked to his teacher, there's nothing different at home and he's wonderfully behaved at school. I'm not sure what to do. I hate to see him cry. Do you have any advice? Should I pull him out of school? Anything you can offer to give me something new to try? -- Jennifer

Ann answers

You are right to be concerned, Jennifer. Your child is not crying for nothing, and three months is too long for that behavior to continue. Two things instantly come to my mind: either he is not developmentally ready to leave you yet, or he has trouble with transitions, perhaps compounded by your reaction to his crying. My instincts lean towards the first, but let's explore them both.

Does he typically have trouble making the transition from one activity to another? When you go to the park with him, does he throw a fit when it's time to leave? Does he have trouble putting down his toys to come to dinner? Does he have difficulty stopping what he's doing and leaving when you pick him up from preschool?

If so, it's possible that simply making the shift from one thing to another is the problem, as it is for many children. If you believe that to be the case, than making a gentle switch between activities for your child is the key to solving the problem . The way to accomplish a smooth transition with children is to give concrete reminders, establish a routine, and use a timer. You would be amazed the problems a $5 timer from the grocery store will solve!

Tell him, "When the buzzer goes off, we will have five minutes to get ready to leave for preschool" and then let him continue his current activity. When the buzzer goes off, take him to wash his hands, brush his teeth, put on his coat, or whatever you do for your leaving routine. During this preparation time, talk about the fun he'll have in preschool and the friends he'll see, and ask him what he is looking forward to that day. Bring the timer with you, and once you arrive at preschool, stay for five minutes, setting the timer. When the timer goes off, give him a quick, cheerful kiss and leave. It's very important that you be casual about leaving, because children will pick up on your hesitancy and use that to keep you there .

You have not described your reaction to his crying, but if you are like a typical mom, you will hug and cuddle and reassure -- which is, of course, something your child wants. You must examine the signals you could be giving that give him permission to cry and cut those off. A very calm, "this is nothing" demeanor is what you should go for -- but only if you have determined that his problem stems from making this transition. If your child does not have trouble with transitions in normal, day-to-day life, it's very likely that he's simply not ready to be away from you yet. This is not unusual, nor is it something to be concerned about. Preschool is not a must for academic success, despite the trend towards it in society these days. To become good students in elementary school, children need to have developed an appropriate level of emotional maturity and self-confidence. As an at-home mother, you can give your child numerous enriching activities that will help him learn everything he would have learned in preschool, and then some, while still providing him with the emotional closeness he still needs. By the time he is kindergarten age, he'll most likely be quite ready to take that step.

When you are kissing him good-bye as he leaves for college -- which, trust me, will happen all too soon -- you will look back fondly and remember these days when he didn't want to leave you. Trust your instincts, Mom.

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