For many families, a return to school or childcare has meant contending with the morning line of cars waiting to transport their precious cargo to a day of learning. While pausing in this halting line may be a minor inconvenience to our busy mornings, it can cause some distress to our little ones who realize that time with family is coming to a close and a big transition awaits them. This year, my two year old son attended school for the first time. I noticed that he began to cry as we neared the building, despite talking happily about his teacher and friends while we were at home. Using these tips, our mornings are generally tear-free, and he is able to start the day regulated and ready to learn.
· Talk your child through the entire morning routine. Drop off may seem like one small moment in the day, but for a young child it requires a lot of effort to remain regulated as they go through all of the steps of the morning. At home, you can remind your child of the process of getting out the door, such as “first we eat breakfast, then we get dressed, then we brush teeth, then shoes, and then time to go to school in the car.” In the car, explain to your child where you are in the town, wonder about all the fun things your child will do that day, and remind them that we are heading to school. This helps to soothe anxiety of the unknown, and builds language skills.
· Have fun while waiting. Sing songs, have a dance party, even blow bubbles (I like to hold the bubble wand up to the air conditioner) while waiting in the car line. Not only does this give your child something to focus on other than the impending separation, but is a great way to bank some connection with your child in preparation for the big transition of heading into school.
· Stay positive. It can be really hard to stay cheerful and excited about your child going to school when they cry at goodbye time. It’s ok to acknowledge those tough feelings, “I feel sad when I’m away from you too!” but it is important that we stay calm during this process. This informs the child that school is a safe place, and also gives us an opportunity to model regulation skills like taking deep breaths.
· Keep separation brief and predictable. It’s hard to let your child walk away from you when they are upset, but the longer we stretch out the separation the harder it is on everyone. Come up with a goodbye ritual, such as a secret handshake or a special phrase, that you do every single day. As soon as you complete your special goodbye, it is time to leave. This keeps the separation brief and provides each of you with a little spark of connection as you head into the day.
· Partner with teachers and staff. Greet your child’s teacher or the staff member who picks your child up at car line to show your child that this is a safe, helpful person. Ask your child’s teacher to share pictures of your child enjoying their day and talk to your child about it in the evenings. You can also review the classroom daily schedule with your child, and let them know that you will be back after a certain time of day such as nap or snack time.
Car line can be hectic and stressful, but by actively working to soothe stress for ourselves and our children we can start the day with smiles!
~ Melissa Smith, SBVP
MDG Coordinator & CLASS/Behavior Specialist