Daycare drop-off can be a challenge for many children. Even if your child has a great time at daycare, loves their educators, and has lots of great friends, drop-off can still be difficult and some children may cry, cling on to their caregiver, or refuse to go inside. This can be confusing and upsetting for parents and caregivers – they know that their child is happy at daycare, so why are they getting so upset? The key to addressing this behaviour is to understand that no matter how secure and happy your child is at daycare, drop-off represents a separation from their primary caregiver, which is often upsetting for young children. If your child struggles with drop-offs, you’ve probably already tried many of the more obvious strategies like using a comfort toy, creating a goodbye ritual, and preparing them for drop-off by talking it through beforehand. Here are some more creative ideas to convey to your child that you are still loving them and thinking of them while you are separated, which may help them to feel calmer and more connected to you, leading to easier drop-offs.
1. Draw a heart on both your hands
In the morning before daycare, let your child choose their favourite pen or marker and carefully draw a matching heart on both of your hands. Explain to your child that these hearts are connected to one another, so if they miss you during the day, they can press on the heart and you will feel it on your matching heart. This simple symbol provides your child with a constant visual reminder that they are still connected to you, even when you are apart, and also provides them with a strategy they can use when they miss you and need to feel connected. You can customise this strategy to suit your child. For example, if your child loves superheroes, you can talk about the heart as a kind of “superpower” and at drop-off, you can push your hearts together to “charge” them up with love for the day.
2. Holding their worries
If your child has specific anxieties surrounding their day at daycare, you can make them feel heard and safe by writing or drawing their worries on a piece of paper in the morning, folding it up, and keeping it in your pocket. You can tell them you will hold onto their worries for them for the day, so they are free to relax. This can help your child feel listened to and validated about the worries or fears they may have, while also helping to relieve any stress they may be feeling.
3. The invisible string
This strategy requires a little more abstract thinking but is very effective for older children (around 3 or 4 years and up). Explain to your child that you are always connected by an invisible string made of love. In order to help them understand, get a real string and have them hold one end of it, then take the other end into another room where they can’t see you. Have them tug on their end of the string and you can tug on yours, to illustrate how even though they can’t see you, you’re still connected by the string. You can then tell your child that the string that connects you to them is so long, that it can stretch anywhere because no matter how far away you are, you are always connected by your magical, invisible string of love. Have your child imagine the string and describe its colour, texture, and any special features it may have so it becomes more ‘real’ for them. When it comes time for drop-off, remind them that you will be connected to them all day because of the invisible string. This idea comes from a fantastic book called ‘The Invisible String’, by Patrice Karste which you may also like to read with your child to reinforce the idea.
4. Photo album
Children love looking at photos of themselves and the people in their life, so photo albums can be a great tool for soothing separation anxiety. Put together a photo album of your child with some of the key people in their life and try to include a few photos of your child happily being held or played with by some of the daycare educators. If your child becomes upset at drop-off, you could suggest they go inside with their educator to look through their photo album. This provides an incentive to separate from you, while also reminding them of all the secure, loving connections they have with multiple caregivers.
Ultimately, struggling with daycare drop-off can be a very developmentally normal response to separating from a primary caregiver. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your child, or that they are not happy at daycare. The best strategies for soothing separation anxiety are based on an understanding that this behaviour is rooted in a child’s deep, instinctive need to feel connected and that some young children struggle to understand that they are always connected to their primary caregiver, even when they are apart.
At Little Zak’s, we love working with parents to come up with unique solutions to help children thrive at childcare, including stress-free drop-offs. If you’re worried about separation anxiety, talk to your nearest childcare centre todayto discuss how we can help.