How can parents deal with a child who cries at school or daycare drop-off?
I am a preschool teacher who deals with tearful separation professionally, and I can assure you that, in most cases, the amount of time your child spends in tears is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend lingering. I know it is difficult for parents to leave their child in tears, but if the separation is done right, they won’t remain that way.
So how do you do it right? Here are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
Don’t: Sneak Out of the Room When Your Child Isn’t Looking
Doing so is an easy way to avoid having a child you love scream in your face, but it doesn’t help the problem. Your child is crying because they are afraid of abandonment, and when they look up to see their parent has left stealthily, the fear is reinforced.
Do: Say Goodbye and Tell Your Child That You Have to Go But You Love Them
Give them a hug, kiss, or whatever other parting custom you share with your child.
Don’t: Look Scared and Sad Yourself
The way young children assess the safety of a situation is by reading their parent’s face. If you look like you are scared or about to cry, it will not convey that the situation is safe and will amplify their anxiety.
Do: Smile and Tell Them That You Know That They Will Have Fun at School
Let them see on your face that they are safe and there is nothing for them to worry about. This may take a bit of acting on your part, especially if it is your first child and they are separating for the first time.
I know how torn parents can feel in these situations. At my school, parents need more tissues than children over the first week. You know already that parenting isn’t easy, and this is a difficult time when you need to be strong for your child. Show them your biggest and most confident smile as you leave, then you can go cry. Many schools will even have a room for this specific purpose.
Don’t: Show Indifference to Your Child’s Tears
It is important that they know that you care when they are sad. Don’t scold them for crying or act frustrated by their emotions. Doing so will only add a sense of parental disappointment to their ongoing emotional anguish.
Do: Reassure Them
Remind them that you know they will have a fun day at school, even though they are sad right now. Remind them that you (or whoever else) are coming back to get them. If you want, you can make a plan for an activity that you will do together after school. This will give them a reminder of your return, and give the teachers a way to break through the sense of abandonment.
When a child is crying for a parent, it is very comforting to be able to say, “I heard your Mom is taking you to get ice cream after school. That sounds like fun! What’s your favorite flavor?” Suddenly, the child is smiling and looking forward to the future. Only a minute ago, all they could think about was how alone they felt and how sad they were. Now they are excited for the fun time they will soon be having with their parent. Then it is much easier to play and have fun with their friends.
In general, you can make your separation go something like this:
You: Okay, Timmy, it’s time for me to go to work. I love you!
You: (pick him up and give him a big hug and kiss) Oh, honey, don’t worry. You are going to have so much fun at school today! I’ll be here to pick you up at [dismissal time], and we can go to the park! Then afterward we can play with your new face painting set and have a silly face party!
Timmy: (continues crying and clings to your neck) No, Mommy, don’t go!
You: (pass him to a teacher) I have to go to work, but I’ll see you at pickup! I can’t wait to hear about all the fun things you did in school! I love you! Goodbye!
And exit stage left.
I know it is difficult to walk away when your child is in tears, but if you do it like that I can almost guarantee that the child you pick up will be smiling, happy, and excited to tell you about their day at school.
I’ve seen it over and over again, and I promise it works.
This post originally appeared on Quora.